Saturday, March 26, 2016

Creed (2015) Review:

Through the years Sylvester Stallone as an actor has gone through multiple changes. He's played action leads, comedic characters and dramatic roles. His fans love the nostalgia he holds for the era he was most popular in and his ability to be charming in the cheesiest of fashions has proven to be a strong point for him. But of these characters, the role he has given the most human and likable performance to belongs to Rocky Balboa in his film debut in the hit sports drama Rocky (1976). As stated by Stallone in several interviews, the way Rocky was written for each film had events that paralleled that of Stallone's own life. Now although not every Rocky sequel is equal to each other, Stallone has created quite the legacy for the character. Of this series, there was one other character who deserved that recognition and that was Apollo Creed played by Carl Weathers in the first four films. After the tragic death of Creed in Rocky IV (1985), the idea of carrying on the underrated name seemed unlikely. That is until director Ryan Coogler thought of it.

Adonis & Bianca
Before this popular spin-off of the Rocky series came to a reality, Ryan Coogler was only known for making one other theatrically released film. That film was Fruitvale Station (2013), a biopic surrounding a controversial public dispute gone wrong between a civilian and a police officer. Starring in that film was then up and coming actor Michael B. Jordan, who had worked in films before but none of such magnitude. For both men and for what they had to work with in resources, the movie had quite a moving story and there was very little that wasn't effective on the viewer. After receiving the notoriety that was needed, Coogler pursued and persuaded Sylvester Stallone that the story of the Creed name was not finished. Written by Coogler and Aaron Covington (in his first writing credit), create a solid story that will bring in new and old fans alike to see what there is to continue in Apollo's footsteps. Joining Coogler once more is Michael B. Jordan as Apollo's unborn son named Adonis Johnson when he died.

Wanting to initially get away from his father's shadow, Adonis fights for himself but soon contacts an aging Rocky (Stallone) once he realizes he needs a professional at his side. As the two work together, they form a bond and Adonis begins to learn that maybe his last name means more to him than his thinks. While training Adonis also meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an upcoming musical performer who has her own set of goals. After some time, they too catch feelings for each other. These three characters alone do most of the heavy lifting and it is very praiseworthy. All three have wonderful chemistry with each other in their own ways and the audience will feel very close to them. Phylicia Rashad also plays Adonis' mother who does share important developmental scenes for her son. But of all the other characters, they don't have much input, which is okay for this installment. Initially, Rocky has some friction between another trainer Pete Sporino (Ritchie Coster) and his son, but after one bout they didn't linger around.

Instead, Rocky and Adonis are contacted by Tommy Holiday (Graham McTavish) who represents 'Pretty' Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) to fight, but only under the name of Creed. The reason why they're contacted is that Conlan needs another fight to keep him from losing income after his temper gets him into trouble. With out Conlan being written this way, as of right now, he wouldn't have had any other reason to fight. So with this, the subplots aren't as focused as the character development. The only other noticeable thing is that the script has excellent continuity except for one character and that's Duke played by the amazing Tony Burton. Audiences will be kept up to date on every other character except Duke and he was the one who had been through it all! They have Wood Harris play a character named Tony 'Little Duke' Burton but that doesn't explain what happened to Duke senior. Of all people, come on guys. In spite of this though, both screenwriters provide a ton of respect for all the older films and events that took place before it.

"What I tell you? Women weaken legs"
Providing the camerawork to this boxing drama was Maryse Alberti. Before this megahit, Alberti had other experience as the cinematographer to multiple documentaries, TV movies and other well-known films like Tape (2001), The Wrestler (2008) and The Visit (2015). The film that would probably have the most benefit to this spin-off would be The Wrestler (2008) considering the setting. For the boxing matches, the energy is definitely there and there are a number of long uncut scenes that will keep the viewers watching. This helps the fights feel more authentic rather than using quick edits. Scoring the music is another Ryan Coogler collaborator and that goes to Ludwig Göransson. Göransson who although produced a minimal score to Fruitvale Station (2013), goes all out here. While preserving Rocky's theme, he also creates a headstrong new theme for Adonis Creed and it is a catchy one. He also uses synths in some cases to give the music a more soulful feel, which also coincides with Tessa Thompson's music. It is actually very relaxing.

Script wise, it is meticulous in its effort to keep strong continuity but it forgets all about Tony Burton's role and it subplots based on the fighters other than Adonis don't have the strongest focus. Yet among this, Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson all play very likable characters with great onscreen chemistry. The boxing matches are well shot and choreographed, and the musical score is a soothing mix of soul/R&B and orchestral progressions.

Points Earned -->7:10

Dr. Giggles (1992) Review:

With comic book characters and brands being all the rage when it comes to adapting stories to films, the one's that that people know of the most belong to DC and Marvel. Depending on how much a viewer wants to know more, if researched, the end result is that there are much more than these main two properties that have been adapted. Of them, IDW, 2000 A.D., Icon and Image comics are a few that have also received film adaptations. Among these however, possibly the third highest adapted comic book brand would belong to Dark Horse Comics. The company itself has made several films starting in the early 1990s. Some of their movies aren't the greatest according to an overall agreement but some also don't get enough appreciation. It's very first outing; Dark Horse produced a horror comedy based off of a two part series they had released. Somehow in its release, the reception wasn't too accepting. It definitely is not the worst Dark Horse comic book film that’s for sure. It may have some very typical problems but this is made up for in other areas.

"I hope you're wearing protection"
The movie title is about an insane doctor (Larry Drake) who enjoys performing malpractice on live patients and finds it comical, thus giving us his nickname Dr. Giggles. After his latest murder, Dr. Giggles returns to his hometown to finish killing the neighborhood folk that destroyed his life. All the while, Jennifer Campbell (Holly Marie Combs) a teen with an abnormal heart rate is tried to be comforted by her boyfriend Max Anderson (Glenn Quinn) and her father Tom Campbell (Cliff De Young) as she copes with the loss of her mother. Written by Graeme Whifler and Manny Coto (the producer of the 24 and Dexter series) and who also directed give this story a bit of a mix between Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). However, this is only on the very surface that it borrows its ideas from. One of the biggest blunders this movie commits is including numerous horror trope cliches. This is from jump scares, to predictability and the order of kills. It's okay if some of this is there but all of it makes it feel generic.

Among these issues, the script also includes a number of events that just feel highly improbable. This is either due to physical limitations or just being plain obvious. Unfortunately, with this the actors who mostly try end up coming across as quite uninteresting. Very few of them actually stand out from one another; many of them are just fodder for Dr. Giggles to perform surgery on. Though there are two cops named Joe Reitz (Keith Diamond) and Hank Magruder (Richard Bradford) who try to figure out what's going on. Sometimes they will help a character or they will help the audience understand the antagonist better. Of the teens, Holly Marie Combs is the only actor that gives any kind of defining performance. She does manage to show courage and bravery when needed. Any other teen portrayed in this film are like others seen before. Actors Sara Melson, Darin Heames, Deborah Tucker, Denise Barnes, Doug E. Doug and even the stepmother played by Michelle Johnson all have predictable dialog and development.

And although he isn't the character viewers should want to win, Larry Drake is gleefully the best part of the film. Drake as Dr. Giggles does have a pretty encouraging laugh and his ability to be creepy and funny works well in his favor. This is Drake's forte after all. He played Robert G. Durant so well in Sam Raimi's Darkman (1990) and Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995). The horror and comedic elements are fairly good throughout. For horror, the gore or scare factor isn't too prevalent but Drake's acting is unpredictable and the kills can get inventive at times. Along with that, the kills shown are a bit skin crawling as well. For comedy, the only real parts that it has going for it are the one liners that Drake says to his patients before he kills them. It's actually surprising to hear how many doctor or hospital related jokes can be made for an hour and half. Yeah, it's corny at times and campy but it resembled very much of the tone that Freddy Krueger evolved into over time in his series.

Holly Marie Combs
The director of photography to this project was handled by Robert Draper. Draper also worked onHalloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989). Despite this, most of his skill has focused on TV movies. Movies in general require cinematography but TV movies are shot very differently to that of theatrical films. Being that the ratio is 2.35 : 1, it shows that Draper worked at getting as much as he could, but much of it was limited. Draper does capture some effective set pieces like Dr. Giggle's house and shots of various practical effects. For the film score, Brian May composed the music. Sadly this would be his last theatrical film score dying a few years later. May was also the composer to Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy's Dead - The Final Nightmare (1991).  For what is produced May shows that he can produced good music. There is a main theme for Dr. Giggles and it is creepy. Occasionally the music will sound a little over dramatic but it still works.

The story has numerous cliches, occasional implausible logic and several unoriginal characters. Thankfully, Larry Drake as Dr. Giggles manages to make the viewing experience campy fun. The visual effects, gore and music are made decently enough to get something out of this early Dark Horse comic book movie.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Short Cuts (1993) Review:

Ensemble cast movies have been proven to be both great and terrible ideas.  There are plenty examples of movies that represent both ends of the spectrum. Of this particular type of casting, the most familiar are movies that have intertwining story lines that overlay in some fashion. Initially the plot threads feel a bit out of place and non-related, but in due time they all end up crossing paths and lead to some kind of climax. This kind of execution isn’t always the case, but it is more or less the one that is frequently used. Examples of nonlinear story telling would be like V/H/S (2012), V/H/S/2 (2013), V/H/S Viral (2014) and Movie 43 (2013). This is where the stories are fragmented and made into shorts instead of an actual feature length product. The movies that have a more interwoven storyline are works like Crash (2004) and Reach Me (2014). But it wasn’t just the start of the 21rst century that screenwriters had come up with this concept.

This is what you think you'd see but it gets strange
Back in 1993, avant-garde director Robert Altman decided to take a crack at it. The end result was this movie. Based on the writings by Raymond Carver (the same writer to that of Birdman (2014) was based off of) and adapted by Altman and another writer, this movie focuses on the lives of several couples living in Los Angeles. As simple as this sounds, these collaborative threads that make up the film are not very exciting. What truly works in favor for the viewer are the more technical elements. Cinematography by Walt Lloyd (The Santa Clause (1994)) is adequate. Several of Lloyd’s shots contain accurate background scenery to L.A. and anything around that has clear lighting. The music composed by Mark Isham is easy going too. Isham as a composer who tends to create music that is more aesthetic than engaging, yet for this score it has all the cool jazz sounds using the double bass and other jazz instruments. It’s almost like a precursor towards Christopher Lennertz style,…almost. 

Lastly is the acting by all cast members. They can act and they do a great job at making the viewer feel the appropriate way for their roles. Sadly, the problem is their roles. This is where unfortunately so many things go wrong. The cast to this movie is enormous. You have Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., Madeleine Stowe, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Peter Gallagher, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Lyle Lovett, Huey Lewis, Robert DoQui, the list goes on and only a couple of the characters this entire list play are sympathetic or likable to some degree. This is actually quite a frustrating watch. Almost no character has respect for anyone or anything. This is not to say that the characters were intentionally written to be mean spirited, but the attitudes portrayed just make the viewing experience feel entirely hateful.

In some cases as well, the characters act very strange. Sometimes they don't care how foul their mouth is around other people. One character is a mother who makes a living by making phone-sex calls and she does this from while she takes care of her babies. That's just wrong. Another individual cheats on her husband and has no problem cursing him out in front of her son. How careless. Robert Altman as a director has been known to push boundaries but there are some points that even he should find questionable. It's understood that people in general take on different personalities during different times of the day and some activities diverge a lot further from others but some are just beyond uncomfortable. My question is, what is supposed to be taken away from this viewing? What is the message specifically? Life is what you make it? Life does not always end happily for everyone? What? The list of questions can go on and on because of how little clarity there is in the film's screenplay.

Take me back in time Huey,...please
The only credit that can be given to the writers is the connectivity they give each storyline. At some point or another each thread will cross one another and it's interesting to see who knows who. That's it though, not even all subplots are or feel properly concluded the right way. There's something going on in L.A. about some MEDfly and the air is being crop dusted and people think they'll get cancer; but that goes nowhere. With that, there is very little buildup to the climax of this three hour movie. Worse yet is that this movie is three hours long and couldn't develop its characters in some fashion to make them likable or at least make them realize how destructive they're behaviors are. Suzy Elmiger and Geraldine Peroni who work as the editors don't do a good job either. Some scenes pertaining to a certain thread last all of a quick 10-20 seconds long and it transitions to another. That's quicker than the editing in Reach Me (2014). It's unfortunate that it feels this poor.

Aside from its acting, camerawork and music, nothing else is worth it here. Almost all characters are unlikable, of which most of their behaviors are uncomfortably strange and their development feels somewhat nonexistent. The script also suffers from unfinished subplots, annoying editing and a long running time.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Warm Bodies (2013) Review:

When it comes to zombies, everybody pretty much shares the same opinion. If you were to come in contact with one, either run as fast as possible or shoot it in the head. Although this situation has never occurred, it's at least some kind of solution to an extremely difficult problem. The zombie itself has changed numerous times over the past several years. Initially with its introduction in George A. Romero's Night of the Living (1968), the zombie has been portrayed as a mindless eating machine. An empty vessel looking only to gorge itself in its crave for human flesh and to do nothing else. Or at least, this is what we uninfected humans believe. What if under all the decaying exterior and faded color was a functioning brain that was aware of its current condition but could not control the system that carried it? What if there was an actual cure for the plaque that made everyone so lifeless? Well that's what Isaac Marion's novel explored in the book of the same name Warm Bodies. This adaptation of it is well done too.

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50 (2011)), the story follows a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult) who is indifferent on his current state. He only eats when threatened but on the off chance of finding him, he'd rather try to communicate. As far as R knows, he's the only one who started out with this thought process. One day when hunger gets the better of him, he manages to come in contact with a female human named Julie (Teresa Palmer) and brings her back to his home (which is an abandoned airplane). As they stay with each other, they begin to bond. Meanwhile on the sides, both protagonists' parties don't catch on. Marcus (Rob Corddry) one of R's zombie pals almost mistakes Julie for food, while Julie's father Grigio (John Malkovich) looks to annihilate all zombies in his way. Considering the director who also acted as the writer handled this production, it's impressive. There's quite a bit of development that goes on among characters and that's for both factions.

To help the viewer understand R better, much of the reasoning and motivational decisions made by him are explained through voiceover by Hoult in order to know what he's thinking. There's also explanations given as to how R understands other people and as to why he eats aside from being threatened. However, the one aspect that Levine did not cover is how R became self-aware. How did it happen? When did it happen? Of all the zombies around him, nobody felt the same way he did anywhere else? It's possible but highly unlikely. The only other issue this horror comedy has is its rating. In the past there have been horror films released by the MPAA with a PG-13 rating. Yet for this movie, the violence isn’t super gory but there are a number of bloody scenes. Even one of the characters drops an F bomb, so why not just go all the way? It's obvious this could have been rated R too because all the "blood" that's on screen has mainly been coated in a black ooze color. This is what keeps the MPAA from giving it the restricted label. Seriously though?

Nonetheless, the acting is great in this picture. Nicholas Hoult as R has quite the charm going for him being undead and all. There are some real moments that show that there's something ticking inside his head. Teresa Palmer although representing the female strong head trope in horror films, her character's courage is noted and her chemistry with Hoult is amiable. Plus as both develop, the audience will see the struggles both need to accept. Rob Corddry as Marcus plays a funny counter to R in his mannerisms and actions. The same can be said for Analeigh Tipton who plays Julie's friend Nora. Both actors act as the protagonists' backup in a comical manner. John Malkovich as Julie's father has a much smaller role to play and although he's not around for long, his motivations are clearly defined and explain why he acts the way he does. There's even an appearance by Dave Franco playing Julie's ex; he probably has the least amount of development among the rest of his cast members. The antagonists are called bonies, walking skeleton zombies.

"Eh,....close enough"
For the bonies, they have no conscience whatsoever. Special effects wise, they seem to be the weakest aspect because of just how rigid they move. They have a look that resembles very close to Stephen Sommers' The Mummy (1999) CGI. However, the cinematography Javier Aguirresarobe was handled well. Even for the chase scenes, the camera felt very steady. All scenes captured the right amount of landscape, whether being in R's airport or in the humans' bunker. Aguirresarobe also filmed for the Fright Night (2011) remake, Goosebumps (2015) and The Finest Hours (2016). For music, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders (a Beltrami collaborator) composed the score. Surprisingly, this is the second score (the other being The Sessions (2012)) produced by Beltrami that rarely sounds like his previous horror scores. There are moments that involve blaring horns, but much of the score is comprised of bells, harps and piano that represent themes for R and Julie. They are simply one the most beautiful themes ever composed by him and it is by far one of his most recognizable and its quite pleasing.

Writer/director Levine forgets a few areas in the script to elaborate on when it comes to logic, but a lot of the time, it will wholesomely immerse the audience into the mind of R. It also could've been rated R, but aside from that, the comedy between the leads work, the camerawork is good and the music is the heart tugging centerpiece.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Eye See You (2002) Review:

In the life of big name Hollywood actors, it's understandable that not every celebrity is going to be performing in a spectacular film every time a movie comes out with them in it. It's very rare that this does happen, but almost every well-acclaimed thespian has one or two labeled ugly ducklings in their filmography. Surprisingly for this movie, this has been tagged as one of them for almost every popular actor cast in this production. According to what was reported, Universal Studios has disowned this movie for a series of bad test screenings, re-shoots and various producers backing out for unexplained reasons. Starting in 1999, the final product would be shelved for three years before seeing the light of day. Critics were none to pleased in result of it and it continues to be overlooked by many just because of the reputation that it gained. In all sincerity, this is not the worst film any of the crew to this assembly have been in. There are noticeable issues but it doesn't entirely destroy the viewing experience.

Jake Malloy
Viewers are introduced to F.B.I. agent Jake Malloy (Sylvester Stallone) hunting a slippery serial cop killer. Breaking down after witnessing a brutal crime scene, his Captain (Charles S. Dutton) sends him to a solitary location specializing in detoxing cops. There, Malloy meets his fellow patients, but among them is Malloy's deadly suspect of which he’s not aware. As death begins to rear its ugly head around the facility, it's up to Malloy and company to figure out who it is and stop them. Based on Jitter Joint, a book written by Howard Swindle, the premise is somewhat close but after that it heads down familiar territory. This is in part based on the adaptation by Ron L. Brinkerhoff (in his first writing credit) and director Jim Gillespie who is best known for making I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). For direction, much of the execution does feel very standard and the writing is weak in a number of areas. Brinkerhoff would later go on to write for The Guardian (2006), which did get more audience approval than critics.

Aside from Gillespie's rather cut and dry directing, Brinkerhoff's script has errors that pertain to continuity, unresolved subplots and missing motivations for various characters. For one thing, the killer acts very much like all the other horror icons. How does one have the ability to be in more than one place at once? Yeah, it is supposed to be psychological but once the hand has been revealed, the facts should add up - but they don't. Also there's a lack of reasoning for certain actions various individuals make. Only sometimes is any actual justification given. Lastly when things get resolved, not all threads are tied up. This is probably due to all the reshoots and such the production ended up doing. This isn't so much all Brinkerhoff's fault but he did write it. However even with these problems, not everything is that dreadful. For one thing, Brinkerhoff does manage to keep a few horror cliché’s off the list and that is blissfully enjoyable. It's one thing to ask for perfection and it's another to be grateful for the small things.

Another plus is the acting, of which all are acceptable. Malloy’s (Stallone) fellow patients are Slater (Christopher Fulford), Conner (Sean Patrick Flanery), Rev. Jones (Courtney B. Vance), Noah (Robert Patrick), McKenzie (Robert Prosky), Lopez (Angela Alvarado), Jaworski (Jeffrey Wright) and Brandon (Mif). Overseeing them is Doc (Kris Kristofferson), Jenny (Polly Walker), Hank (Tom Berenger) and Jack (Stephen Lang). For the people mentioned, this is actually a large and well-rounded cast of very well-known actors. Some of which, these actors haven’t been in a horror genre film. Seriously, this is the only film in which Stallone is a victim and not the other way around. It's rare to see him act in such a different setting and that deserves credit. Now although the horror element to this movie isn't truly clever, there are some pretty gruesome deaths put on screen. Not all of the kills are on screen but even the aftermaths are a bit unsettling. There are stabs, cuts, strangling and other sorts of acts when the killer is around.

"Sorry, Kurt Russell couldn't make it today...."
The setting to most of the story takes place in an old asylum in the middle of winter. Being that everyone is stuck in the same building and the situation they're in, the story has a mix of the usual horror slasher tropes and John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). For cinematography, Dean Semler worked as the director of photography. Semler has also worked on the Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), We Were Soldiers (2002), xXx (2002), Bruce Almighty (2003) and Maleficent (2014). For the scenes shown no matter if re-shoots or not, all scenes are clear and well-lit where required. Only once was it shaky and that was for a chase scene. The musical score composed originally by John Powell was also well done. Sadly, Powell's score has never been fully released due to the production delays and rejections. Only a couple tracks seem to have surfaced. The music contains beautiful piano themes for Malloy and deep drawn out strings in a minor key with ominous knocking noises to signal the tension.

The writing isn't specifically unique in exposition and the execution is your run of the mill. Clarity is also a difficult thing to come by among character decision making. Even with this, the actors perform decently, the violence is fairly brutal, the cinematography is adequate and the music is recognizable. Plus, this is the only horror type film Sylvester Stallone has ever been in.

Points Earned --> 6:10