Sunday, January 24, 2016

Her (2013) Review:

The human condition has been a topic of study for ages. Nobody truly understands what goes on upstairs in the cavities of our mind and how it works. There have been professionals that say they understand the process of which all come to one intersection point, but the whole entire truth to how the human brain works is so vastly unique from anything in the world, that we still have not entirely figured it out. This is why mankind has not been able to completely make artificial intelligence  REAL intelligence. We are getting closer that's for sure, but this fulfillment still has not been achieved yet. Once that day is realized, the world will have a very controversial topic to talk about it. Until then, let's imagine if this was already integrated into our lives and we had no issues with it. What would happen if that newly created intelligence became something more, an entity larger than anyone could think of and how would it affect us personally? This is one of the many questions director Spike Jonze hopes to show us.

Joaquin Phoenix
Also taking on the role as writer, Jonze’s screenplay focuses on the relationship of a divorced man Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his newly acquired operating system (OS for short) named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Being that Jonze only has two other theatrical director credits (Being John Malkovich (1999) & Adaptation. (2002)), it's great to see after such a long time he can produce strongly admired work. This trend is parallel to that of director Ben Lewin of The Sessions (2012). There is almost nothing that can be said that doesn't work in this production. The script to this film is beyond great. The themes that it covers dives deep into the psyche that is the human condition and what we must endure as a species with this complex processor in our head called a brain. It also demonstrates life lessons that occasionally (or frequently) we forget about as we live our lives on a consistently scheduled basis. One of the biggest examples is just the joy of living, no matter what that consists of.

In life, everyone experiences emotion. Negative and positive emotions. Whether this is love, jealousy, confusion, frustration, euphoria, etc...these are all moments in time in which we as an individual are given a chance to grow and learn. These kinds of events are what Theodore and Samantha go through together. Jonze's script also covers what happens when one gets too attached and how that affects one's judgement in a specific moment in time. This kind of development is also given to the supporting characters played by Amy Adams and Chris Pratt. All characters end up giving each other some kind of advice that is much deeper after living through some kind of struggle. These are all very important scenes because they help not only the characters understand each other better, but it also indirectly teaches and motivates the viewers of this phenomenal movie. Rarely do viewers come across a film that looks to assist them in life.

Of this, it is important to just move with life. Jonze's script has a moral and that is time and life is forever changing. Nobody can stop change and if it's refused, the change will be harder to handle. Things may seem weird at times and almost like they shouldn't be happening, but as humans, we must figure out what we want. Once we know what we want, we must believe that we will get what we want and then feel as though what we want is already there. This is practically the same lesson that author Rhonda Byrne of The Secret is trying get across. Live life to the fullest and do not measure yourself based on your past. Learn from it and move on, this is all that can be done. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson have amazing chemistry together and are quite amiable. Although Johansson is not on screen once, the scenes they both share together are so relatable in so many ways that it would be hard for anyone to deny going through at least one of the moments presented on screen.

Where Samantha lives
The cinematography to this movie was shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema. Hoytema has also worked on other well acclaimed films like The Fighter (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Spectre (2015). Hoytema shots only move when needed, but lay still most of the time, especially during scenes that involve dialog between Theodore and Samantha. It just really takes you in. The lighting and coloring is great too, very bright and vibrant. The Canadian band Arcade Fire composed the musical score and it's great in its simplicity. The score mixes synths with piano and occasional guitar. That's really at that was needed. With these instruments alone, the score accomplishes the raw emotion needed to complete each scene and it works every time. Again though, why can't more production companies hire actual bands to do scoring. Mastodon did it in Jonah Hex (2010), Daft Punk did it in Tron: Legacy (2010) and M83 from Oblivion (2013). It's unique and should become a trend!

There's nothing that can be found that needs work. Everything from the acting, music, camerawork and especially the writing is massively successful in doing what it needed to do. Writer / director Spike Jonze has created a movie for the ages that viewers can actually take life lessons from. Hopefully, when we create REAL intelligence, we create a system like Samantha.

Points Earned --> 10:10

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985) Review:

When it comes to sequels, the ability to make it more appealing and better in every way compared to the original that it spawned from is a task many do not accomplish. When a product is made so special, powerful people try to capitalize on it. We all know things do not last forever and for movies, a concept’s popularity is only as good as its ticket sales. It really doesn't matter how crafty the script, actors, direction or special effects are, if the movie sells tickets then prepare for another round of what was just made. This particular cycle does not happen all the time, but in most cases it does. The Police Academy (1984) franchise is one of those series during the 80s that was an immediate success. Once Warner Brothers saw the potential, they began making more sequels. The first film, although not high end comedy, did provide a number of laughs because of its cast and ridiculous situations. The continuation of that story is okay but the repetitiveness is starting to rear its ugly head.

"Don't mind me,...just being.......dirty"
With a new script written by Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield who before this had only worked on SNL episodes, they did change some things but a good portion just repeats the same events from the past. Also because it was felt the last film was too crass, TV director Jerry Paris took over the production. The story starts after the first by having six of the original cast members moved to the worst precinct in need of law enforcement thus giving them, their first assignment; ergo the title. The cast members to return to the film are trouble maker Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), silent tough guy Hightower (Bubba Smith), gun-crazy Tackleberry (David Graf), sound effects master Larvell Jones (Michael Winslow), clueless Doug Fackler (Bruce Mahler), timid voiced Hooks (Marion Ramsey) and their boneheaded leader Commander Lassard (George Gaynes). Currently in charge of them is Howard Hesseman playing Lassard's younger brother trying to get his act together.

Also under command of Lassard's brother is Lt. Mauser (Art Metrano) who states early on that he looks to have the new recruits fail in order for him to take over the precinct. The gang that terrorizes the city is led by Zed (Bobcat Goldthwait), a split personality type that frequently changes between finishing sentences. For the writing, there are a number of parts that don't work. Since G.W. Bailey did not return Lt. Mauser is basically the substitute fodder for Mahoney and his gang. Plus, his motivations feel out of nowhere. There are also new goofy characters at the precinct, which were most likely created because only some of the original cast returned. This however oversaturates the number of funny characters. Adding too many quirky characters is overwhelming and it doesn't leave much time to develop the new or old characters. There's also no explanation to where the old cast members went - like Mahoney's girlfriend. Speaking of which, this time Tackleberry has one.

Tackleberry's love interest is Kirkland (Colleen Camp) who loves guns just as much as he does. How cliché. Every original cast member gets a new partner that has their own weird habits. Mahoney has a partner (Peter Van Norden) who eats crap,...almost. What is nice to see is the remainder of the original cast. All of whom keep their characters like they were and play off each other well. Even Hightower gets more dialog and that's appreciated. The comedy and gags are mostly okay. There are moments that are repeated but they are mostly the ones people enjoyed in the first film. There are new bits too and that calls upon the newer characters. The comedic parts that aren't acceptable though are some of the homophobic and sexist jokes. Even though Hooks is timid in personality, she still can provide the right help. She did more in the first, but here she just sits at a desk mostly because she's a woman. Wow, nice one screenwriters.

Bobcat Goldthwait
There's also a new character named Sweetchuck (Tim Kazurinsky) who owns a store and constantly unintentionally crosses paths with Zed's gang. Some of those moments are comical to watch too. Cinematography was handled by James Crabe, the same director of photography for Rocky (1976) and The Karate Kid (1984). Here Crabe's camerawork is steady and rightfully captures all the funny scenes. Composer Robert Folk returns to score the music to the series and maintains the same theme thankfully. Throughout the rest of the movie, the scenes have what feel like a stock 80s sound to them but that's also a part of what made the first movie fun. Folk's music continues to have the march of snare drum and flutes to give it that military feel even though the police force is not an army. Things could be worse but then again we are only at the first sequel. There are lots more to come and who knows how that'll go. Only one way to find out though.

This is just an average retread of the original. The script is too abundant in new hokey characters and it also doesn't let the originals develop. Plus, there's no reason given as to why some of the originals do not return. There are still some laughs to be had though with the original casts' antics and silly moments. The jokes are thankfully toned down a bit too (some).

Points Earned --> 5:10

Terminator: Genisys (2015) Review:

Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the most popular actors of his time during the 1980s. His ability to rack up the body count and spew out catchy one liners was uncanny to say the least, especially for a foreign born actor. Fans love to recount his most famous roles but if there's ever one that he will forever be remembered for, that is his portrayal of the terminator throughout James Cameron's Terminator franchise. Unfortunately like all original movies with sequel after sequel, the franchise began to show its age. Fans of series were far from impressed with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and McG's Terminator: Salvation (2009). To be honest, they were not terrible films. What viewers didn't enjoy about them was they did not follow the same vein as the first two. The problem was that it was difficult to surpass the second act. Finally, fans saw Schwarzenegger return as the T-800 to this sequel that even creator James Cameron himself proclaimed to be the official sequel to T2 and the best sequel yet. So it was said.

Courtney & Clarke
There is no doubt that the crew behind this looked to satisfy the large fan base. Yet, there were certain decisions that were made that seem careless. The biggest problem that outraged many fans was the trailer, which immediately spoiled the film by revealing John Connor was a terminator. This drops a lot of buildup to a surprising reveal. The plot to this story takes place during 2029. John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) just about defeat Skynet when the cycle begins all over again and a terminator is sent back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Reese is sent back but learns that things have changed and has leaped into another timeline where everything he thought is the exact opposite. The script was written by Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander (2004) and Shutter Island (2010)) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry (2011)) and for the most part it works. Even the John Connor spoiler was fine, that fault is on marketing.

A component of the writing that is harder to come to grips with is the timeline element. The movie tries to sound sophisticated by having Arnold state scientific facts and information, but the whole idea sounds convoluted. However this can be skimmed over because no one knows for sure if this is really true, so audiences could suspend their disbelief. Here's where it gets confusing though, Cameron clearly stated that this is the 3rd official sequel to that of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). So why is it that some of the plot points within this movie's script have references to that of Terminator: Salvation (2009)? The film even deliberately ignores the events of McG's movie yet still indirectly references it? Which is it then? One other part of the writing that wasn't completely needed was unnecessary added roles. Specifically, J.K. Simmons and Byung-hun Lee play characters that are just there for convenience or nostalgia and not much else. There's no need to cram in everything.

There is still a good amount of enjoyment to get in return though. Even with script's occasional overbloatedness, viewers of the film will have a nice ride surfing the wave of nostalgia the film provides. This wave is big; it has both auditory and visual references to the older films and even switches up the role of who does what (since it is an alternate timeline and all). The dialog equally matches the scenes filmed and the actors play off each other well. Schwarzenegger returns as the T-800 and continues to perform at his best. The dialog he's given feels no different than it was back in T2. Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke have amiable chemistry, plus their development in their relationship isn't forced either. Even with all the flack Courtney has gotten for other films, he sounds like he's legitimately doing his best. Jason Clarke does his best too and although his role lost the buildup it could have had, he too acts like John Connor would. His scar makeup is grizzly looking.

"Do my scars scare you?...."
With the passing of special effects wiz Stan Winston in 2008, this second Terminator film does not receive his personal blessing. However, the special effects still look decent in action. Perhaps the only part that doesn't look right is the fully robotic T-800. They do not have the same tangible appearance like the others from past films. The cinematography is well lit, clear and has plenty of wide scope shots to boot. The director of photography for this sequel was Kramer Morgenthau who also worked on Thor: The Dark World (2013) with director Alan Taylor (who directed this sequel). Producing the film score is Scottish composer Lorne Balfe. Thankfully, Balfe continues to reuse Brad Fiedel's main theme from the original films and has the right emotional cues for the softer moments as well. The executive music producer was none other than Hans Zimmer and anyone who follows scores should be able to pick where Zimmer influenced it. It could be worse but it isn't.

The writing can get a bit confusing and it also has some unnecessary role casting but it doesn't bring it down too much. The main cast works very hard, the action is entertaining and the music sticks appropriately to its roots. Now if only the marketing department left out the huge John Connor spoiler in their trailers.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) Review:

In the mid-1970s, Tobe Hooper had unleashed horror in a new way to moviegoers with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). It was a film that had so much going for it. It may have been outrageously controversial for its depiction of sadistic violence but it served its purpose in being a scary film. It relied on simplicity and minimalism in order to drive its viewers crazy. Then Hooper created the long awaited sequel that confused his original fans by attempting to keep continuity while simultaneously changing everything else. It turned out being more of spoof of itself than being a sequel. When the franchise finally released its second sequel, it was even more mixed in reception due to its further lack of connection to the last two movies even though its title said otherwise. At that point, it would've been thought that maybe the franchise was suffering from lack of attention. Apparently the next sequel (this one) shockingly was neglected even further. It by far is the most confusing and disappointing to say the least.

The new Leatherface,.......
The overall idea behind the story is no different from that of the other movies before it. A group of teens end up crossing paths with Leatherface and his notorious family of cannibals. This sequel was written and directed Kim Henkel, the original co-writer to the original film that blew everyone away. According to Hinkel it was supposed to be the official sequel to the original film. As to what he thought consisted of making it the official sequel is barely visible. The writing is all over the place and the continuity is very unfaithful. Like the films before it, it begins with a monologue recounting the past events, yet it was supposed to ignore them too. So how does that work? There's also a subplot about Leatherface's family having some kind of government connection or something along those lines. Allegedly they report to a higher authority and their motives go higher than their personal needs? The most painful part of the writing belongs to the dialog and the actors don't make it any better.

Almost the entire cast essentially is an over the top exaggeration of some horror trope but worse. Starring as the heroine is Renée Zellweger best known for her breakout role in Jerry Maguire (1996). She's also accompanied by Lisa Marie Newmyer as Heather, who constantly spouts out useless sentences that don't add anything to develop her role. There's also Tyler Shea Cone playing Heather's boyfriend Barry who is none the more likable. They also come across a local who tries to help them played by Tonie Perensky. All of which can't deliver a line that sounds the least bit believable. The only thing that really keeps a viewers’ attention is because of how bad the actors are. The only actor who has some saving grace (for himself) is now esteemed actor Matthew McConaughey playing Vilmer, a member of Leatherface's family. McConaughey just hams it up playing his role as psychotic as possible. Playing Leatherface is Robert Jacks who is annoyingly bad because all he does is scream nonstop.

The only other positives worth mentioning are the practical and makeup effects. There's not an abundance of practical effects but the fact that it was used shows effort. The same could be said for the makeup. McConaughey's character is part robotic with a hydraulic leg and that does make it interesting to see. How he got that way and as to where he came from, if this is the "official sequel" to the original, is never explained either. What a surprise. This is it though for pluses. Even though there are practical effects, there is almost no gore to this movie. It makes the previous film to this franchise look bloodthirsty. It's actually very surprising. With all the inhumane and off putting scenes that involve grotesque acts, there's hardly a drop of blood shown throughout the running time to this movie. Sure, minimalism works to an extent but if nothing else is really working in the overall product, at least give the audience something visual.

"Does this scene look familiar to you?!...."
That also goes for background elements. The director of photography to this project was Levie Isaacks. Isaacks is best known for being the DP to movies of Guyver (1991) and the infamous horror movie Leprechaun (1993). The work that Isaacks presents here isn't much to talk about. Much of the shots throughout the film consist of turning away from anything gory and refusing to place any establishing shots. Viewers will see the disarray of the cannibal house but there's no real setup. The films before it at least had some kind of arrangement. Here it's just everything everywhere with no real order and it's boring. For music, Wayne Bell from the original film returns and his composition is uneventful too. There are moments where he creates a tune or two that establish a nice sense of dread but other than that there's nothing memorable about it. Much of the instruments involved are synthesizers and since it is not used properly, the audio is rarely effective. So sad it got this bad.

It's a shocking film all right. It's shocking that people who were involved with the original returned and had completely forgotten what made it so unique. Matthew McConaughey is possibly the only actor who tries (somewhat) and there are some okay looking effects. The rest isn't good. It makes the other sequels before it look like it they had better writers. Not even a gorehound would enjoy this.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Sessions (2012) Review:

The struggle of personal enrichment in life is a confusing path for many people. It really takes concentration and self-control in the individual to think about what they want and what moves them to have this desire. This particular journey is more difficult for others who have specific limitations. When a person has a healthy and able body, they have the power to do anything they set themselves and minds to. For people who have physical disabilities, this power is capped off  depending on where their disability lies. For people with Poliomyelitis or Polio for short, their limitations lies in the physical reality. Every sensory and mental activity remains unchanged, but the strength to move certain muscles have vanished. In today's time, doctors have helped in the prevention of this life changing disease and in most cases things end up fine. However, there are still people that become infected and lose the required muscle control to function normally. This is the story of man with that disease who tested his destiny.

Helen Hunt & John Hawkes
Based on an article written by Mark O'Brien and adapted by Ben Lewin as writer/director to this film, this biopic tells the emotional journey of man just looking to achieve a small accomplishment. Renowned poet Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes - Identity (2003) and American Gangster (2007)) has been a polio victim since he was six years old. Paralyzed from the neck down, living in an iron lung machine day-in-day-out, and tired of caretakers who look at him like he's a chore, decides one day that it's time for a change. The biggest change he wants is to lose his virginity. Seeking advice he goes to Father Brendan (William H. Macy) to see what he should do. At first he thinks he's onto something when his new attendee Amanda (Annika Marks) really enjoys his company, but it turns out he got too attached. Making calls he's given contact information to Cheryl (Helen Hunt - What Women Want (2000)), a professional sex surrogate and therapist Vera (Moon Bloodgood).

Scriptwise, writer/director Ben Lewin has created such touching story. Considering the last script he was ever credited for was back in 1994, that's very impressive. Most of the time when writers and directors have that long of a hiatus, they are no longer in touch with what is currently trending with contemporary audiences when they return. Each lead and main supporting character are exceptionally developed and charming simultaneously. John Hawkes as Mark O'Brien sounds feeble but he does have an energetic spirit for a man who can only move his head. He's even got a bit of a foul mouth. William H. Macy as Father Brendan is comical because of his profession and trying to accept O'Brien's situation at the same time. How many times do priests have to listen to that kind of a story - one that goes against the teachings of god? Even Moon Bloodgood's role that is initially not the most talkative to O'Brien warms up to him.

Helen Hunt as O'Brien's surrogate is astounding. To play such a revealing role (and at being close to 50 at the time) is extremely courageous. Aside from her profession though, she makes her role very appealing through her personality and analytical skills too. Her chemistry with Hawkes is quirky at first but does develop into a touching connection with each other. The only problem in Lewin's script is that Hunt's role doesn't make a lot of sense, pertaining to her life. For her profession, one would think she would live solo, but no. She has a husband (Adam Arkin) who is aware of what she does and isn't very concerned and also has a son (not mentioned if he knows). It's a bit odd to be honest. Controversial indeed. How does a family stick together through that, me. This is it though. What's also great about Lewin's writing is that he also covers how and why getting too attached to someone can be harmful. One can be so caught up in it that they forget it’s business.

"Well.....this is a new request..."
This is why situations like these are difficult to handle. An experience like that is so personal that realizing that it's not real can be very destructive to one's self esteem. The camerawork by Geoffrey Simpson (Life (1999)) was well done. Every scene was brightly lit and completely displays to its audience what they should be seeing. This is from the point of where viewers are introduced to O'Brien in the iron lung, to his travels, where people take of him and when he spends time with others. The more sensual scenes between Hawke and Hunt are pretty graphic but much is hidden too. The music is another step up. Composer Marco Beltrami worked on this project and although his score is much shorter in entirety, it is nothing like his other prior works. Beltrami has a main theme and instead of relying on full orchestra, he calls upon plucking cellos, piano and some synth soundscape. Beltrami is usually bombast in his horror scores but this is a complete 180 change that should be heard.

Helen Hunt's character is really the only one who has a strange lifestyle throughout the film, which makes it questionable but other than this, all characters (including hers) are highly developed. Every scene is well lit, the script is remarkably touching, the actors all perform well and the music by usual horror composer Marco Beltrami demonstrates his capability that he can create music for other genres as well with a very simplistic yet emotional score.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Ride Along 2 (2016) Review:

For the original Ride Along (2014), it was by no means a buddy cop movie that broke any rules or boundaries. It was mostly a standard affair of the usual buddy cop genre clichés that occasionally threw something new into the mix. One of the biggest differences for this feature among other cop comedies was the pair of main leads. Putting tough guy Ice Cube and comic short stack Kevin Hart together wasn't a bad idea at all. Even with the number of problems the picture had, Cube and Hart were able to make the watch a tolerable experience. Of course because this was probably one of the big reasons as to why that movie did well, Universal Studios green lit this sequel. And like other sequels that come after their originals, their lack of attention begins to show. There's nothing wrong with hiring the majority of the same crew to film a sequel but they have to know how to develop the story and not just run on auto-pilot; rehashing everything from the first entry. Sadly this is practically what occurs here.

Hart, Cube and Munn
Directed by Tim Story and written by duo Phil Hay / Matt Manfredi again, you would think there'd be some kind of change in where the narrative went. Not really. One of the biggest topics that is consistently brought up during this movie is the matter of "focus". The script to this sequel struggles to have that focus. Even with everything James (Ice Cube) and Ben (Kevin Hart) went through in Ride Along (2014), Ben is still not an official detective. After making their latest bust, James discovers that the drugs coming into where he lives is being delivered from Miami. With Ben's wedding is a few days away, James takes Ben on another "ride along" in hopes of having his sister realize she loves a fool. The premise is more or less the same concept except this time, the surrounding circumstances are altered slightly. Going back to what was mentioned earlier, the writers and director just seemed to be on auto-pilot for this project. Hardly any of it feels different from before.

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart still have a bit of chemistry together on screen but it now really depends on whether the viewer is interested in seeing familiar slapstick. Hart is loud and Cube fumes out the ears or stares in confusion. There are a couple of good quips each lead has but the comedy is more hit and miss now. There's also a new addition of supporting characters, which belong to Olivia Munn as Maya, a Miami cop and Ken Jeong as A.J., the main suspect who has a connection to the crimes. Although Munn doesn't have very much dialog that develops her character, she too gets a few good scenes in. Ken Jeong is alright in his role but he can get a bit annoying for those who already aren't fond of Kevin Hart's character. Jeong's role just adds to it. Playing the villain, Antonio Pope, is Benjamin Bratt, who downright nails the "bad guy" voice and look but fails to have any development written for him. This makes him even less of a threat than Laurence Fishburne from Ride Along (2014).

There are few other faces to be seen as well. Tika Sumpter playing Angela (Ben's soon-to-be wife) returns since she’s more or less a plot device than anything else. Carlos Gomez (from Desperado (1995)) plays the Miami captain of the force and it certainly was a surprise to see him. It's been a while. Lastly, Michael Rose plays a henchman of Pope. The only reason why I mention Rose is because for a while he looked like Robert John Burke. It's kind of an eerie resemblance. The action sequences are adequately staged and some parts of those are different when it came to using vehicles and such. The special effects were okay too except for one scene, which dealt with Ben relating an action sequence to a video game. This time, instead of Ben just stating to pretend it's a video game, the scene literally turns into one and its transition is jarring. It's somewhat inventive but at the same time, the visual downgrade makes it look like the crew was just trying to save money.

"Come with me,....I make this sequel so much betterrrr"
The cinematography has changed hands for this feature. Originally for Ride Along (2014), the director of photography was Larry Blandford who had some very uninteresting shots. In Ride Along (2014), much of the situations involved were inside buildings with dull colors. Here, Mitchell Amundsen takes over and it looks a ton better. The setting is in Miami, so there better be some wide scope shots of scenery. Even for the inside of buildings, the structural designs were much more elaborate giving viewers at least something to look at. Amundsen also worked on Transformers (2007) and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009). Lastly, the film score was once again produced by Tim Story collaborator Christopher Lennertz. Strangely enough Lennertz does not reuse his main theme from the original movie but at least keeps the same tone of his cues. A franchise like this should have a main theme to fall back on though. That would've made it somewhat more memorable.

Ride Along (2014) wasn't a great buddy cop movie but it did feel different. This sequel just re-does almost everything except the mission is different. Ice Cube and Kevin Hart still have likable chemistry and the cinematography has improved but much of the antics and formula are very much the same; making this feel too similar for its own good.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, January 15, 2016

Van Helsing (2004) Review:

Hugh Jackman has had his fair share of films people always enjoy. The Prestige (2006) and Prisoners (2013) are of a couple that Jackman is well respected for. With this, Jackman has had a steady career of being cast in various films. By far the one everyone will remember him for though is his portrayal of Logan AKA Wolverine from X-Men (2000) and the numerous sequels and spin-offs that came after. There have only been a handful of features that Jackman probably thinks people shouldn't bother seeing. By now one of his highest choices would probably be Movie 43 (2013), which received extremely negative reviews. Before this though, Jackman was in another film that isn't exactly high end either. For that case it belongs to this film, an action fantasy movie that is cluttered with several things that make it a bore to sit through. It isn't the absolute worst but it gets very tiresome over time. There just needed to be less of what was present and perhaps it might've felt smoother.

"Come on man, this wasn't that bad a film"
Picking up where the animated prequel left off after chasing Mr. Hyde, Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is assigned to go after Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) who’s after an ancient family bloodline lead by Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale). Turns out Drac wants the secret of life created in Frankenstein's monster (Shuler Hensley). After the financial success of The Mummy Returns (2001), Stephen Sommers came back for this project as the writer/director. This is probably where most of the problem lies. After the waves he made with his mummy franchise, Sommers just went on auto pilot, making action fantasy spectacles that became less and less engaging. Looking back I know my review to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) needs a re-adjustment because after watching this, the same tropes are fairly much the same in there too. All the plots to the writing (whether main or sub) contain numerous genre clichés that are tired and simply uninteresting.

Before the leads even physically meet it is foreshadowed that Van Helsing will fall for Anna. That's no spoiler, it's plainly obvious. Even the plot itself is overused. Why must every movie that involves Frankenstein's monster have it be "the key" to whatever the villain is planning? There's also unexplained mythology about several parts to the plot. Dracula’s weakness and Van Helsing's backstory largely are just hinted at. Other than that there's no in-depth look; so why even bother? Another problem is pacing. This movie is over 2 hours long and felt painfully slow, as if there wasn't even a script to begin with. Plus, the plot dealing with Frankenstein's monster isn't introduced until around the halfway point. I, Frankenstein (2014) had the same overall plot, was a half an hour shorter and managed to make the viewing experience feel somewhat more enjoyable because of its trimmed running time. Here it just feels like a slow treck through action scene after action scene.

The last issue to this creature feature is the cast. Jackman and Beckinsale are probably the only two who play it straight. Jackman was the better half more because he has better quips for certain situations. Other than these two people, every other actor is hammy beyond belief. It's one thing if a single actor hams it up more than everyone else, but when the whole cast is being over the top, it just feels overly dramatic and in the most silliest of ways. Carl (David Wenham), Van Helsing's assistant is nothing more than a sidekick. Will Kemp is useless as Anna's brother. Kevin J. O'Connor as Igor (who looks like he has John Hurt's makeup from The Elephant Man (1980)) is wasted because it's shown he has opinions,...but that’s ignored. Shuler Hensley as Frankenstein's monster is cool looking but does a lot of screaming. The same goes for Richard Roxburgh as Dracula. He by far chews the most scenery; MORE than Richard Grant from Rocky V (1990). It's ridiculous.

Richard Roxburgh....
These are the positives to the film and they do make the viewing better but still not decent enough. Robbe Coltrane voicing Mr. Hyde was nice hearing again. The action, although too abundant, was mostly entertaining. Even though by today's standards compared to 2004, even the CGI looked fairly good. This goes for the action sequences or the slower moving shots. The cinematography shot by Allen Daviau looks adequate too. Daviau was also the DP for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) and Empire of the Sun (1987). Composing the film score to this action fantasy movie was Alan Silvestri. Turns out for this score, Silvestri does not stick to his usual sound. Here he incorporates some synth into his motifs. He also arranged multiple themes for various characters and scene locations. Now if only his full score would be released, that'd be nice. If you can ignore all the bad things mentioned before you might enjoy this movie.

Action junkies and Hugh Jackman fans would probably get the most benefit from this film. It isn't terrible but it has enough issues, with its painful pacing, overzealous actors and foggy writing. The action, music and visuals are good but that's what most Stephen Sommers' films have in them. It's rather boring at times.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, January 8, 2016

Update,...doing something new!

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Night of the Living Dead (1990) Review:

Remakes and reboots by far are one of the most despised and looked down upon ideas and concepts that many film goers and critics a like do not enjoy sitting through. Whether it's because Hollywood is trying to cash in on people's nostalgia or running out of ideas, nobody really favors their beloved pieces being redone. Another problem most fans have with these plans is that the people who make these decisions have no understanding of what made the original so beloved. Then they hire a group of people who have no knowledge either, it just insults many viewers' intelligence. But there have been occasions where the exact opposite happens. Take this project for example. To this day, director George A. Romero is best known for his feature film debut with Night of the Living Dead (1968). Being the first of his "dead" franchise, it was quite the groundbreaker. It reinvented horror for filmgoers at the time and had interesting characters to follow and sympathize with; a classic. Why would anyone remake it? Apparently Romero thought it could use an update.

Tony Todd & Patricia Tallman
The majority of the plot itself, written only by Romero, remains largely unchanged. Groups of people end up crossing paths at an abandoned house after they are driven away by cannibalistic dead people known as zombies. The characters involved are also the same. The leads Ben (Tony Todd) and Barbara (Patricia Tallman) work together to defend themselves in the home. They also meet couple Tom (William Butler), Judy Rose (Katie Finneran) and the Cooper family headed by Harry (Tom Towles) who wants nothing but to hide in the basement. Bill Moseley best known at the time for playing "Chop-Top" Sawyer from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 (1986) even has a small role as Barbara's brother. Aside from these similarities, Romero does pen in some new ideas and changes up several events. One of the new ideas thrown in is Barbara being a strong female lead. Unlike her 1968 counterpart, Barbara takes charge and even questions as to why staying in the house is good idea if you can just walk past a zombie quick enough. All valid points.

Having a strong female lead in a horror movie was not a new thing by the 1990s, but for Romero's remake it was. Tony Todd as Ben plays it up well as the no nonsense type and isn't willing to play games. Even William Butler plays an empathetic character. Lastly, Tom Towles as Harry Cooper plays his role well as the antagonist of the group looking not to fight back. The characters are developed enough as well to where if an individual makes a mistake, the consequence is tough to accept. What's also appreciated is how first timer Tom Savini (who normally does special effects) directed the film. Savini takes Romero's script and helps bring the changes to certain events with ease making the execution almost feel like an alternate reality if things were to happen in a different way. However the film does suffer from its issues. A blatant problem is some of its continuity for unexplained reasons. There are certain things that happen to some characters that don't get an explanation to what exactly happened.

The overall effects to this remake look great too. Everett Burrell served as the special makeup effects supervisor to this project and as a stand-in for Savini, it's fairly decent. Before this Burrell also worked on well-regarded films like Re-Animator (1985), Aliens (1986) and Glory (1989); all of which had a significant amount blood squibs and dismemberment. The zombie designs in this creature feature are much more grotesque than before and that's good. However it's not even the kills in this movie that make this a zombie film, but more of the all the ways a zombie can be displayed. Here there are some severely gnarled up zombies that are quite comical to look at because of their persistence no matter how banged up they are. For a normal horror fan, the shock and scare value aren't much to be seen but there is enough tension buildup to make the viewer wonder “how are these people going to survive?”. The solution may seem trivial but from the past three "dead" films, in greater numbers, zombies aren't easy to fend off.

"Well,....can I have some help?"
It is surprising to know that the MPAA gave the original cut an X rating and required certain scenes to be cut. After all the gory films that appeared during the 1980s, it's amazing Romero's still received the deadliest of all ratings. There were other infamous films far worse than his were. Frank Prinzi was hired as the director of photography for this remake. Since the 1960s many filmmakers moved to color and seeing a retelling of the classic story in a different color tone is a nice touch. Prinzi keeps the scenes well lit even for night and keeps the camera focused as well. The musical score was a disappointment however. The composition was scored by Paul McCollough and looking at his prior work, it's rather unimpressive. The score is entirely made up of synthesizers and rarely does it work. With no main theme this remake feels like it has no identity. A signature tune somewhere would've helped but instead the listening experience is just garbled mess of sporadic tones. It could've been worse though considering it's a remake.

It's music feels largely uninspired and the script does suffer from continuity errors. But for a remake (which many do not support) it's rather decent. The updated script changes, the added color visuals and overall situation is enough to keep the audience engaged for the hour and a half.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) Review:

Although during the mid 1900s filmmakers were beginning to expand their range of experimentation in their projects, things were still very separate. Many genres during the time stuck within their boundaries. If you made a drama, it stuck to the highlights of personal conflict. If it was a sci-fi film, it focused more on the futuristic aspects of it. The same went for action, horror and comedy films respectively. As the 1980s rolled around, genres began mixing even more. One of the more popular hybrids of the time was the buddy cop genre, which was the fusion of the action and comedy. Now when it comes to adding in another genre to the recipe, that can get tricky. Depending on who's writing, trying to find an even blend for more than one category is not easy. The idea is to produce a product that appeals to each fan of the particular style without alienating them simultaneously. For director Guy Ritchie, it seems that making a feature length movie to the TV show of the same name seemed like no problem considering his previous works.

"Got your tux from Brooks Brothers huh?"
Before this comedic action spy film, Guy Ritchie also directed Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000), which were action comedies and the Sherlock Holmes (2009) series, which were action spy films. Written by Lionel Wigram (Sherlock Holmes (2009)) and also Ritchie, this spy action comedy successfully sets out what it was made to do and that's blending all the genres evenly together. During the Cold War era, American professional thief Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian professional KGB spy Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are paired up under their ruling nations to try and stop a unknown organization from distributing nuclear warheads. As far as overall execution goes, most of it is straightforward. Only occasionally does the plot get muddled with information for no real reason. This happens when information is being passed between informants. In some ways it's understood that the writers are trying to make this information hard to attain but it does feel overly convoluted.

Co-starring with the two main leads are Gaby (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina (2015)) as their main ticket of getting access to the unknown organization because her uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) being connected to them. Suspected of possessing the warheads is Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby (2013)) for being related to a World War II fascist. In it's entirety, almost all main characters receive the development they require in order for the audience to understand them. Of the cast, the top three rightfully go to Cavill, Hammer and Vikander. Hammer and Cavill have great chemistry for the bickering duo that they are. What's great is not only that they don't like each other because of each other knowing their partners' background, but also for the fact that one is Russian and the other is American. Working with the enemy probably is not a job anybody wants to do. The buddy cop trope of opposite personalities exists but instead of it being shown in attire it is demonstrated through personality, which is different.

Cavill plays it cool and slick, while Hammer plays it brash and hot tempered. These are two extreme opposites yet they both get the job done and that's extraordinary. This also helps in the comedic delivery because of how well they bounce their zingers off each other. Vikander also works because of her ability to be her own character and have her own moments. That also means she doesn't need Cavill or Hammer's character to support her; she can actually manage her own. The action is nicely stylized as well. More of this element goes hand-in-hand with the spy genre where Solo and Kuryakin are required to go around as other characters. Another situation might be when the two are trying to outrun another character so that they aren't caught and their cover is blown. It's crafty business and it looks fun with the energy put on screen. The only thing that may be a bit off putting is the costume design for the finale build up. The costume designer to this production was Joanna Johnston (Hellraiser (1987) & Forrest Gump (1994)).

Alicia Vikander
For the display on screen much of the color schemes and designs look very much like Cold War era clothing. Yet when it gets closer to the finale, Hammer and Cavill dress in military suits that resemble that of The Expendables (2010). The rest is fine though. The cinematography shot by John Mathieson is brightly lit and has plenty of landscape to see whether it's urban or rural terrain. The musical score provided by composer Daniel Pemberton is interesting too. Although he doesn't have a main theme for the franchise itself, he does give separate themes for the characters. An example would be Kuryakin where every time he gets angry. But even this, Pemberton also creates a score very close to that of what someone would hear from the era. It's psychedelic and also relaxing to listen to. Pemberton also includes drums and timpani for various action cues although they are a not as memorable as the other tracks mentioned before. However, this is largely a solid effort that should not be ignored.

Its main leads have natural chemistry thanks to some adequate writing. It does however suffer from infrequent times when the plot can get confusing for no reason because of it being in the spy genre. But it's not much to say when the music and visuals to the movie add to the style of how closely it matches the era that its source material spawned from. The action is also fun seeing how the characters get around.

Points Earned --> 7:10