Star Wars (1977)

As I was writing up my post on Muppet Treasure Island, I was flipping around the TV stations and I came across the original Star Wars, what would become to be known as Star Wars: A New Hope, on TNT.  So I watched it.

It has been awhile since I have seen this film that started a franchise that is so important to movies and to fandom.  It was such a treat this morning seeing the initial film that had so much joy and fun about it, before people got angry and insane over every little thing.  How the greatness of this epic came through the screen with great characters, exciting action, wonderful performances and a story that is simple yet full of heart on its own.

Watching it again made me remember how special it was to see Star Wars for the first time.  What a special feeling it brought to the viewer, filling him/her with a tale of a hero’s journey from youth to rebel fighter.

Sure, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was really whiny, but that only serve to show you how much the character grew over the years and the subsequent films.  We got continued goodness from Harrison Ford as Han Solo.  A brave and heroic princess who was not anyone’s damsel in distress in Carrie Fisher’s Leia.  The regalness of Sir Alec Guinness as our first ever Obi-Wan Kenobi.  The first time ever to see such iconic characters such as Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO.

Directed by George Lucas, the film truly holds up and actually looks even better than the CGI fests that populated this franchise in later episodes.

And there was the pureness of Darth Vader, before we knew that he was a hero fallen or that he would one day be conflicted because of his feelings for a son.  This Darth Vader was a classic villain who was bad ass and knew what he wanted.  He did not hesitate to strike down Obi-Wan with his light sabre and send the old knight straight into the world of Force ghosts.

Each character had an arch and they each became more than they were at the beginning.  Han Solo showed his heroic side for the first time (unless you count Solo: A Star Wars Story) as he returned to help Luke blow up the Death Star, an unbelievable weapon that destroyed Alderaan earlier in the film.

There are so many great moments that I can even forgive those tacked on moments that just do not feel as if they fit, such as Han Solo meeting with Jabba the Hut and basically telling him the exact thing he told Greedo.  It was an unnecessary scene that felt repetitive and was tacked on just to shoehorn Jabba into the movie.  These moments are distractions, but cannot take away from the overall epicness of this classic.

There was a reason why this was such a moment in time.  Star Wars was one of the greatest movies ever made.

paragon

 

The Endless

Image result for The Endless movie poster

I was at the iTunes movie store the other day and I came across a horror/fantasy Sci-fi film in the $0.99 rentals.  It was listed as a 2018 release (although I believe it may have debuted at a festival prior to 2018) called The Endless.  The synopsis was fairly intriguing and the price was certainly right.

The film turned out to be extremely solid and downright mind-trippy fun.

Two brothers, Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) and Justin (Justin Benson) received a mysterious video from the cult that they had escaped from as children and they felt a pull to go back to see exactly what they had left.  Once there, the pair realized that there was more happening than just cultist behavior.

Moorhead and Benson were not only the stars of this movie, but they were also the directors and Benson was the the screenwriter.  This film was very well done and had a real feel of an independent movie.  You could feel the surroundings.  The setting became an important aspect of the story.

The mystery of what is going on is very challenging, even when you know what is happening, it is difficult to comprehend and that thinking is welcomed in the horror genre.  In fact, not only was the script very intelligent, it was also creepy as hell, especially in the first half of the movie.

The film has an original story that weaves its way through the narrative successfully.  The performances were solid.  I especially enjoyed the performance of “cult leader” Hal (Tate Ellington).  Hal always seems to have something that he is keeping to himself, but you are never really sure what that might be.  I appreciate how the film deftly avoids the cliched answers that one might expect from the reveal of the film.

The Endless is a great horror movie and fans of the genre will enjoy watching this develop.

3.85 stars

 

Mandy

What. the. Hell.  was. this???

I’m trying to wrap my head around what I just watched.  I’m not sure I want to wrap my head around it.

It is certainly a horror/revenge flick.  But it was so out there that what I saw for most of the movie was so weird… it is difficult to really judge it.

One thing is for sure.  The only actor that could be in this movie and not be completely campy is Nicolas Cage (or maybe Bruce Campbell).  This role is just perfect for Nicolas Cage and his unbelievably over-acting, filled with moments of bulging eyes and bizarre facial features.

And… holy crap… there be violence here.

Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) are in love and are existing in what some may say as a heavenly existence.  When a vicious cult, led by sadistic Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) comes into the picture, the perfect couple is forever destroyed, sending Red on a bloody trip of vengeance.

I think you have to be in the right mind set to watch Mandy.  It comes off as a violent dream, one that you cannot awaken from.  There may be a perverse enjoyment in watching Red cut through these cultists that infused themselves into their lives, but there is also a feeling of grossness here.  Does the film go too far?  Hard to say.

I have never been much of a fan of the torture horror porn style of film and this feels as if it fits into that more than any other.  I do believe there are metaphors and symbols sprinkled throughout the film that give it more of a message or weight that might be seen easier upon a second viewing once I am used to what is happening on the screen.  However, I am pretty sure that a second viewing is not happening.

The soundtrack is pounding and cannot be ignored.  Each shot has a weird color scheme to it, leaning heavily on the blood red.

Perhaps the fact that I am disturbed by the film is the real point to it.

3.1 stars

The Predator (2018)

Although I was not a huge fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1980s, I did love Jesse “The Body” Ventura, from the WWE, so I loved the classic 80s action movie, Predator.  Because of that, I was excited when I heard that they were doing a new Predator movie directed by Shane Black, called The Predator.  I liked most of Black’s work and I thought this would be a nice blend of action and character work.

Nope.

This was awful.

A regular predator arrives on earth with an unknown mission and he comes into conflict with the group led by American sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook).  It took out that team, but it was captured. leaving McKenna alone and looking to be crazy.  As evidence, McKenna took some equipment from the predator and mailed it to his own post office box, which mistakenly ends up in the hands of his estranged son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who is on the Autism spectrum (and apparently genius level).  Rory is able to trigger the gauntlet that had been sent and accidentally tips off the super Predator that had been in pursuit of the smaller predator.

Meanwhile, McKenna wound up on a bus heading to an asylum but he was conveniently  on the same bus as a group of crazy soldiers called The Loonies.  When the storylines converged, they teamed up to try and prevent the predators from doing whatever they were going to do.

The film is needlessly convoluted and confusing in many points.  There are bunches of storylines going on at any one point in the movie and the film touches upon them and drops them willy-nilly throughout.  There are many times that the narrative structure felt more like a mishmash of scenes instead of a well thought out plot.

Not that Schwarzenegger’s Predator was a deeply involved story.  It was the story of a hunter creature stalking and killing a group of well armed men.  It was a slasher horror flick masked as an action movie.  Either this new film did not know what it wanted to be, or, worse yet, knew what it wanted to be and did not understand the basic component of what makes a successful Predator movie.

There were too many jokes.  Scenes were dismissive and played for comedy.  Very few of the jokes worked, even with the remarkably funny Keegan-Michael Key as one of the Loonies.  Key’s character just did not work for me, and any enjoyable scenes with that character was strictly from the talent of Mr. Key.  And above all else, despite there being many quips and one-lines, there were none like “I ain’t got time to bleed.”

The action was fine, but unremarkable.  There were actually several scenes where it looked like an old eighties film, and not in the good way.  The CGI and effects were hit and miss, which is inexcusable at this time in movie history for a big budget movie.

The cast was adequate, but nobody truly stood out.  Olivia Munn was fine in her role, but casting her as a scientist was a bit of a stretch for sure.  Sterling K. Brown’s Traeger was a dull villain whose motivation was confused at best.  I hated Thomas Jane’s character of Baxley, whose character trait apparently was that he had Tourettes syndrome.

The film had a lot of noise and a lot of gunfire with little purpose behind either.  And there felt as if there were no stakes at all because nobody had any fear or concern or emotional ties to anything that happened.  When Jacob Tremblay takes the Predator helmet that hi dad mistakenly mailed him and used it for a Halloween costume, the mask activates on its own and kills somebody.  That does not seem to bother Tremblay’s character in the least.  No one has any normal human reactions to what is happening around them and so why should I care if any of them are in danger?

The Predator is a mess of a movie and I really disliked my time watching it in an IMAX theater.  It did not look good, had average, at best, performances and tried to juggle too many plots where one or two would have sufficed.  The Predator was not a good film.

1.5 stars

 

 

Peppermint

Jennifer Garner stars as She-Punisher.

What?  She’s not?  I thought she might be Francine Castle since her film here is basically the exact story of Frank Castle, Marvel Comics’ Punisher.

But no, Peppermint does not feature the debut of the She-Punisher, but it may as well have.  Garner stars as soccer mom turned psycho terrorist Riley North, who returns to her home five years after seeing her husband (Jeff Hephner) and her sweet daughter (Cailey Fleming) gunned down in front of her by a drive by shooting.  The perpetrators of the crime, despite being identified by Riley, are set free by a crooked system of a judge, district attorney and defense attorney that have been bought off by crime lord Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba).  Riley disappears for five years, turning herself into a revenge seeking murder machine.

I actually liked this more than I thought I would.  It is not a good movie, as much of what it should have done was skipped.  Jennifer Garner was outstanding as the grief-stricken psycho.  You could both relate to her and be amazed at her ability to murder people.  She hit the emotional beats here well and she played this character as slightly unhinged, which helped make sense of how a normal person could become this mass murderer.

The biggest problem of the film was that the real culprits that I wanted to see her take out in her quest for revenge was the people directly involved in the murder of her family and the subsequent cover up in court.  However, of these characters, we only see her kill the judge and one of the shooters (there were three) and that shooter we see get his before we even knew what was happening.  It was the opening scene and it was not as powerful as it could have been had we known what he did to deserve it.  Even still, they could have kept that as an opening scene if they had not killed all of these others off screen.

The worst one was the lawyer defending the shooters, played by Michael Mosley.  This guy showed up at her house after the shooting to try and buy her off and when that did not work, he tried to intimidate her and he wound up using her medication against her.  This guy was the biggest slimeball in the whole movie, but his death was off screen, covered by a line of dialogue.  In a revenge film, I want to see the people I hold responsible get theirs.  I don’t just want to hear about it at a later date.

Most of the movie was focused on the pursuit of Riley against the big boss Garcia.  That was fine, but I really would have liked less of that and more of killing that lawyer.  Or, at least, the other two gunmen.  Instead, they are just dead within the first five minutes after the flashback and it has no emotional response from the audience.

The action itself was good, but not at the same standard of a John Wick.  There were some things that Riley North was able to do that felt like credibility was being stretched too far.

There was nothing new in this movie, but it was an alright shoot ’em up film for what it was.  It could have been a much better revenge film, but the movie does not understand whom the audience wants to see get theirs.

2.85 stars

The Nun

The next installment of a prequel to the Conjuring series came out this weekend with The Nun, which followed behind the pair of Annabelle movies.  The Nun made an appearance in the Conjuring 2 film and became an iconic scene.  It felt like a good idea for a spin off.  However, feelings can be deceiving.

The Nun is a horrid horror movie.  It was just terrible with so many problems in it that make horror movies cliched and boring.  I fought to stay awake through much of the movie and I found it to be just one of the worst films of the year.

After a nun apparently committed suicide, Rome sent Father Burke (Demián Bichir) to investigate in Romania.  They also, apparently, send a nun who had yet to take her vows, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), with him.  Once in Romania, the pair met the man, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), who had discovered the nun’s body.  The trio realized that the location of the “suicide” was a place where a great evil had taken root and they had to stop it from gaining a foothold in the world.

There were so many scenes here that were just so terrible, and most of them were simply strung together as a series of seemingly unconnected events.  There were just so many ridiculously bad scenes throughout that this movie was such a waste of a good creature.  Actually, you do not see the Nun herself much in the movie.

Without spoiling, the ending sequence was so unintentionally hilarious that I could not even get the laughter out.  I sat there with a shocked expression and my mouth agape.  I don’t want to spoil, but I am going to include three words to make you understand what I was watching:  “flushing the toilet.”  You’ll know when you see it.  And what led to that moment of levity was perhaps the stupidest way for this to go down.  So bad that it might make you spit.  (Hint, hint)

Taissa Farmiga was fine as Sister Irene, but she was not able to elevate the material any higher than what was here.  Frenchie was not the worst character because he seemed to embrace the cheesiness of the character and played it as a silly, cartoonish character.  And then what happened to him was disappointing.

The Nun was a terrible movie with little to no redeeming quality.  I hadn’t even mentioned the scene with the buried alive priest.  Ugh.  Just not worth the time.

0.75 stars

 

American Animals

American Animals Movie Poster

I had been hoping to see this movie for quite awhile, but this past week’s Top 10 Show made me even more interested.  Matt Knost, one of the co-hosts of that podcast, listed American Animals as his number two movie of the summer and he said that he nearly placed it at number one.  That rave was fresh in my mind when I happened to find it at the iTunes store.

While I might not put it at number two on my list of summer movies, there is no denying that this film is something special and worth every minute of its run time.

In this true story, four intelligent college students from Kentucky plan out one of the most audacious robberies in U.S. history as they tried to steal several million of dollars worth of rare books from the special collection section of the library in broad daylight.  The film focuses on the four young men and their involvement in the caper.

The film was shot in an original style, part documentary featuring the real life people and part re-enactment as actors took on the roles of the real students.

Leading the cast was the spectacularly chaotic Evan Peters as Warren.  Peters brought such a sliminess to Warren and yet he had that charisma that makes you understand how he could convince two others to join them.  Warren and Spencer (Barry Keoghan), who portrayed a certain innocence that felt corrupted by what happens in the movie, plotted out their plan for the heist before realizing that they needed to have help.  They recruited former classmate Eric (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas (Blake Jenner) to fill vital roles in the heist.

As events began spiraling out of their control, the four students found themselves in way over their heads without any real way out.  What was thought as being fun and adventurous turned into stress and guilt-ridden compulsions.  As their perception of the situation became more realistic, each man had to face their role in the crime.

Ann Dowd played Betty Jean ‘BJ’ Gooch, the librarian in charge of the rare books. The fact that there was just one individual librarian overseeing the books propped the crew up, making them believe that this was going to be an easy heist.  It turned out to be anything but.

The story takes some unbelievable turns that prove why the old cliche “Truth is stranger than fiction” became a cliche in the first place.  What at once seemed to be a simple and fail free crime turned into a cluster quickly.  And the improvisational skills of the thieves were certainly not well developed.

The film felt like two separate films.  The first half was up and exciting, with great music to match.  Any time I can hear Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” I think it is well worth it.  Add in Ace Frehley’s New York Groove and the soundtrack is awesome.  However the second half of the movie highlights the characters’ panic and frustrations, bordering on deep regret.  This feel is compounded by the interviews with the real culprit.

The film also plays with point of view as Spencer indicated that he was not sure what exactly he had seen or how he remembered what was going on.  The film brought that out as a element of the story and it made the film feel even more like a documentary.

This was an extremely well acted, overly original, fantastic heist movie that becomes more than just that.  It is a look at the mind of these four students who believe they are doing something exciting and adventurous, but they discover quickly that the lives of big time art thieves may not be what they are cut out for.

Thanks Matt for the recommendation.

4.75 stars

Kin

Sci-Fi epic.  Road film.  Family drama.  Heist film.  Coming of Age tale.

There are a lot of genres that the new film from directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, Kin, could fall into.  Unfortunately, it seems like the film tries to be way more than it is capable of being.

Young Eli (Myles Truitt) is a kid in trouble at school and with his adopted father (Dennis Quaid).  Eli is out salvaging metal for scrap when he comes across a crime scene with men whose heads had been blown off.  While there, he finds a weird blaster/gun of some kind and takes it with him.  Meanwhile, Eli’s older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) is being released from prison owing money to a bad man named Balik (James Franco).  Balik tells Jimmy that either he brings him the 60 thousand dollars or he may collect it from his father and brother himself.  This pushes Jimmy to make some poor choices.

Jimmy does not yet know that his little brother has a weapon that will level the playing field for them moving forward.

I will say that there were some things that I did like about the movie.  I really liked the performance by Myles Truiit.  He showed me that he was very capable of leading this film.  He was believable and engaging, making it easy to root for him.

I wish I could say the same for Jack Reynor’s character.  I hated the brother character so much.  He was selfish, immature and the choices he made put everyone into danger.  Even at the end, it wasn’t that Jimmy learned any lasting lessons.  He took advantage of every situation, whether or not something tragic happened and, in my eyes, he failed at his attempt to prove his love for his brother.  I did not buy his last minute redemption in any manner and it was only through a conveniently timed deus ex machina that he survived at all.

Speaking of that ending, it was just out of nowhere and was totally against most everything that had happened up to this point.  It felt completely out of place in this movie and any goodwill that the film may have built up prior to this was completely lost with this five minute scene.  It made no sense even after the surprise cameo took off his Idea Men (Animated Tick reference) helmet and was able to finally speak clearly.

The trailers made this film feel as if the brothers Johnny and Eli would really form a strong bond after Johnny was released from prison, but that did not happen.  Heck, the brotherly bond was a complete failure in my mind.  I would even say that there was more of a connection between Eli and the stripper Milly (Zoe Kravitz) the brothers meet half way through the film.

Kin has some positive about it, but there is so much that ruins those positives that by the time you give up rooting for Jimmy and the ridiculous sci-fi ending happens, you have checked out of the early positives.

2.5 stars

Searching

Unfriended meets Mystic River.

This film falls into the next “big, new” genre of movie making, in the same vein as found footage was, which is called Screen Life.  Screen Life is a genre where your story is told by characters staring at a screen, usually that of a computer, and surfing the web across the different well known platforms that everyone uses.  This is easily the best version of this genre to be made yet.

In the film, David Kim (John Cho) realizes that his 16-year old daughter Margot (Michelle La) has gone missing and he tries to do whatever he can do to help the investigation by searching through her social media presence.  Some of the things that he discovered led him to believe that he did not know his daughter as much as he thought he did.  Detective Vick (Debra Messing) is assigned to the case and she has to try and reign David in.

This movie truly transcends the gimmick of the genre.  This is more than just the pieces of the sites like Facebook and Instagram or the Apple apps and techs that are available.  The reason this is more than what you see is the mystery of exactly what happened to Margot.  As David is searching through her laptop for some kind of clue, we the audience are able to be looking too.  The mystery is compelling and has plenty of red herrings to keep you off balance.  I usually see through these mysteries pretty quickly, and, though I had some suspicions, I had not determined the truth prior to the reveal and any film tat can do that for me is a winner.

John Cho, who spends most of his time acting with a computer screen, is absolutely fabulous as the desperate dad who has to go through a gamut of emotion.  From fear to loss to guilt to shame, Cho shows them all.  The character of David slowly breaks down as the movie progresses and everything that they try winds up as a dead end.  He carries the darkness of the movie with him with every possibility that ends up wrong.  However, he is also very smart and I love some of the scenes where he figures something out and how he reveals how capable he truly is (hacking into his daughter’s Facebook is one example).

Most of the film comes directly from the point of view of David, looking on the computer,looking on the social media, talking on the phone.  The only negative I have about the film is that, in the third act, that point of view gets a little muddled as some of the expansion of the techno uses seem to isolate David from the POV.  We see a police interrogation room and we see some network news coverage that feels like the POV shifted.  Although that did not ruin anything for me, I did feel the shift ever so slightly.  It still worked for me in the end.

Searching is an amazing film that kept me on the edge of my seat, hoping to discover what had happened and had me wishing/hoping that this would not end with sadness.  I really had no idea where the film was heading and that is a true bonus in today’s cinema.

4.9 stars

The Happytime Murders

I have seen a lot of hate for this movie, including some people calling this the worst movie of the year.  I am not sure what version of this film they were watching because, in my opinion, The Happytime Murders is a decent comedy.  It was far better than I was expecting after hearing so much hatred directed towards it.

That does not make this a great movie, because there are definite flaws here, but I spent most of the film being entertained and laughing.

In a world where puppets and humans live together, there was once a children’s television program called The Happytime Gang.  Unfortunately, the cast could not handle the sudden success and fell on hard times.  Years later, the show was coming back in syndication and the cast was set to make big bucks.

Trouble was, someone started killing the mostly puppet cast members.  One of the cast members was Phil Phillips’ brother, Larry.  Phil was a current private investigator and a disgraced former police officer, the last puppet allowed to be a police officer. With his brother’s death, Phil got involved in the case, along with his former partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), who had a falling out years prior with Phil over a standoff that went horribly wrong.

The promotion for this movie wanted to make sure that they were clear that this movie, despite having puppets in the starring roles, was not meant for kids.  It is a crude, crass film with many sexual and drug jokes.  And while I agree this is not for children, The Happytime Murders was not the crudest and most raunchy film I have seen.  In fact, I would say, with the exception of a few notable scenes, that the high percentage of The Happytime Murders was more about puppets swearing, puppets smoking or puppets being inappropriate.

In fact, the movie was more of a noir type detective style film, like many of the 1980s films (complete with voice over).  I can see this film as being if Who Framed Roger Rabbit met Sausage Party.

The mystery of the murders that was happening was actually reasonably engaging for me as was the enigmatic moment from Phil’s past that, not only cost him his badge, but also any future puppet theirs.  I thought Phil ( who was brought to life by legendary puppeteer Bill Barretta) and Melissa McCarthy were great together.  I bought everything between the two of them.

The film was pretty funny, but I do think that the funniest parts of the movie had already been released in the trailer.  The silly string scene, of course, is the most risque part of the film.  Do all of the jokes hit?  Absolutely not, but I would say that more that not, the jokes were successful.

The film raises some ideas such as puppets being considered second class citizens and must deal with racism everyday.  While the idea was brought up, it was simply never paid off.  It was a side that could have elevated the film to more of a satire status instead of a simple buddy cop movie with some dirty jokes.  Unfortunately, the racism bit along with most of the movie stayed on the superficial level without going very deep.

Brian Henson, son of EYG Hall of Famer Jim Henson, directed this movie and it was released by HA (which stands for Henson Alternative).  You could feel that there are some scenes that Brian wanted to include as a jab at the Muppets, which he could never do this type of movie with.  Despite that, the puppeteering is amazing in the film and remains at the top level that any Muppet movie would be proud to include.

You may think that the joke of puppets dropping the F bomb and having sex will get old after awhile, and I can understand why some people may make that criticism.  However, I found the story itself interesting enough to keep me invested in what was happening, even if the swearing puppets would not maintain throughout.  This type of humor has never been a personal favorite, but I think this was done well enough for me to enjoy it as the story was better than I anticipated.  Again, I do not know why this film has gotten so much hatred in the critic corner, but I thought it was a fast and fun 90 minute film.

If you like raunchy humor, there is enough here to scratch that itch.  If that type of humor offends you, you may want to skip over The Happytime Murders

3.4 stars

Crazy Rich Asians

Image result for crazy rich asians movie poster

When I first saw this trailer, I dubbed this “50 Shades of Yellow.”  Now, having seen the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, I realized that my comment was unfair.

The story of a famously rich man falling in love with a normal girl and them having a whirlwind relationship made me think this was similar to 50 Shades of Gray sans the S&M, but this film is much stronger, funnier and well crafted than the 50 Shades series.

It is also notable for having an entire cast of Asian descent actors.  This is a major event for Hollywood that should be considered as socially important as Black Panther was in February.

Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) were a couple living in New York, but Nick had to go home to Singapore for a wedding of his best friend. He decided that this was the perfect time to introduce Rachel to his family.  The catch?  Nick was truthfully Nick Young, a member of the Young family, incredibly wealthy and royalty-like, and Rachel had no idea. Unfortunately, Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) took an immediate dislike of Rachel, not believing that she would be enough for Nick.

This is a typical rom-com, but there are some moments in here that truly elevates it above the genre.  One of them is some of the fun and original characters that we meet along the way.  Awkwafina steals every scene she is in as Rachel’s college buddy Peik Lin Goh.  Awkwafina is just hilarious and you have not seen this type of character before.  Ken Jeong is here too as Awkwafina’s father.  His role is kept short which helps the shtick from becoming too old.  Nico Santos was another actor whose performance as cousin Oliver was so much over the top it was fun.

The relationship between Rachel and Nick is very strong and enjoyable to watch.  I like relationships on screen that feel as if they are worth rooting for and this pairing was definitely fun.  It wasn’t even as if Nick had done anything wrong during their relationship that led to their separation, which is usually something that happens in rom-coms like these.  It was one reason why, despite the ridiculousness of the situations, this felt like a real relationship that had some gravitas.

Both Constance Wu and Henry Golding are great in Crazy Rich Asians.  I feel as if both of these actors have a positive career ahead of them after this movie.

The humor in Crazy Rich Asians works more often than it doesn’t and the story is a bit predictable, but the cast does such an admirable job with the material that you don’t realize this is all stuff that you have seen before.  And the fact that the cast is fully Asian actors is not something that should be taken lightly.  Crazy Rich Asians is an entertaining film that I had a lot of fun with.

3.9 stars

 

 

Alpha

Image result for alpha movie poster

After I ripped Dog Days last week, people are going to start accusing me of not liking dogs.

I am a cat person.  Still, that does not affect my reviews at all.

Alpha is set 20,000 years ago and shows the domestication of the wolf into the dog, which happens over a few months (Sarcasm, if you cannot tell).

Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the son of the chief (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) of a tribe and the tribe is preparing to head out to hunt the Beast (aka buffalo) before the winter snow arrives.  During this hunt, Keda ends up being thrown from off a cliff and left for dead by the tribe.  However, the plucky lad survives his fall and meets up with a wolf pack.  He is able to stab the alpha wolf in defense causing the others to run away.  Instead of putting this wolf out of its misery, Keda decides to nurse it back to health, all the while training the wolf that he was the boss.  The wolf slowly understands the lessons and bonds with the boy and they start off in an attempt to return to Keda’s people before the onset of winter.

Let me mention the positives first because there are some.  There are some wonderfully shot images of the world that this is taking place in.  The cinematography is beautiful and some of the shots appear to be picturesque in execution.  Secondly, a lot of the actual relationship stuff between Keda and the wolf, which he names Alpha, work.  Sure it is somewhat formulaic, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The whole a boy and his dog vibe works in several spots in the film.  Finally, I did appreciate that they had a language that was not English and the film had subtitles to read.  Had Keda been speaking English, it would have made it even more ridiculous than it already was.

The biggest problem I had was that Keda must have been some kind of mutant healer because he went through so much trauma to his body that I did not believe for one minute that he was not already dead.  Just in the trailers (which I hated by the way) alone, you see him fall off the cliff, reset a broken leg between a splint, and fall through the ice and go completely under water.  There were even more things that happened to him that were not included in the trailers that I won’t spoil.  I’m thinking to myself that this kid needed a hospital, but he kept shaking off these potentially crippling and debilitating injuries only to be running from the wolf pack in the next scene.

And he spent way too much time under that ice.  I kept thinking about Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” the whole time wondering how he intended not to freeze to death.  And he did not even cut open that wolf to sleep inside it a la Leonardo DiCaprio in the Revenant

Thank goodness that Wolverine/Deadpool healing factor kicked in.

Or maybe there is some kind of special healing gusto in eating grubs.  They seemed to help both man and wolf after eating them.  Yum?

There were several parts of the film that ended up being, basically, a lot of walking.  Sure, it was beautifully shot majestic walking, but that doesn’t mean that just walking is good enough.  It made that 90 + minute film feel considerably longer.

The film kept taking close up shots of Alpha and, in my own smart-ass way, I kept giving an internal monologue for the wolf which was usually something like “I’m gonna rip his throat out” or “I wonder what this kid tastes like?”  Alpha would lend itself to a RiffTrax show.

And I was rolling my eyes so much at the end of this movie with the ridiculousness of the conclusion.  The final ten minutes were just terrible even while they were sweet.

I hate these trailers, but I had seen the Rotten Tomato score was in the 80s% so I had hope that I would like this more than the trailers.  I did like it more than the trailers, but that is not saying much.  It was a well shot film with a nice boy-wolf relationship at the core, but the rest of the film degraded those positives.

When Alpha was howling in pain, I could relate.

2.65 stars

 

Pandas

Pandas

I went into this first thinking it was one of those Disneynature films that come out like once a year.  I was confused about it though since I thought that the next one of those coming was about penguins.  I dismissed that idea, but when the movie started, it was listed as being from Warner Brothers, which caught me off guard.

Truthfully, I liked this way more than those Disneynature films for a couple of reasons.  One, it was fairly short (40 minutes) and two, it was not making up a silly story with a voice over person giving names to random animals in the wilderness and pretending that they were human.

This was an educational documentary about the attempt to release pandas raised in captivity into the wild by using the process of a man who does the same thing with black bears.

The entire film was well done and the way these researchers went about preparing these bears for the return to the wilderness was eminently fascinating.  Watching the one researcher bond with the panda cub (which had grown significantly) through a style of play that could be considered roughhouse was amazing.

The film also added its share of drama as we follow this cute panda named Qian Qian on the quest to release her in the wild.

The film was spectacularly shot and the beauty of the cinematography was worth the price of admission alone.  You just cannot help but be engaged in what these remarkably cute creatures are doing.

Kristen Bell does provide a voice over, but there is nothing but reality being presented here.  Wonderfully shot and short, Pandas had a solid 3D effect in IMAX theaters as well.  A good time for the whole family.

3.7 stars

Mile 22

Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have teamed up for several really strong films including Lone Survivor, Patriots Day and Deepwater Horizon.  Unfortunately, that streak does not continue with the flawed Mile 22.

Mark Wahlberg played James Silva, a terribly damaged individual who worked as an operative in a group for the CIA.  Silva’s group was instructed to pick up a “package” in the form of a rogue police officer named Li Noor (Iko Uwais) and escort him to a plane to the United States.   The local forces tried to prevent him from leaving.  Everyone wanted Li Noor because he had a piece of information that could prevent a terrorist strike.

The movie’s premise is straightforward and simple, but the film through too much garbage at it, trying to make it into more than it should have been.  There was a good action movie to be had with just this idea, but this was not it.

The biggest problem with the film is that the action scenes, in particular the fight scenes, were so poorly shot with shaky cam that half the time I was not sure about what was happening, and that was an even bigger shame since Iko Uwais, who was involved in many of them, was the star of The Raid and is a top notch film fight coordinator and he should have been able to give us something truly awesome.  Instead the action scenes are impossible to follow or to enjoy since the camera is bouncing all over the place.

I also did not like the characters, specifically Mark Wahlberg’s character.  Silva was just about the most unlikable hero you are ever going to see.  He rambled on about insanity multiple times through the film and was just basically a jerk.  I was so tired of hearing him that I was more interested by Li Noor.  Lauren Cohan (Maggie from the Walking Dead) was also here and her character had some development.  She at least had a daughter that she wanted to see.  However, both of them had desperate anger issues that was going to mess their lives up.

Ronda Rousey was part of Silva’s crew and, though her part was small, she was actually better than she had been before.  Admittedly that is a low bar to set, but I was actually impressed with her efforts here.  Maybe those promo lessons in the WWE are paying off.

There were some exciting moments of action, but they were few and hard to see.  In the end, which has an extremely unsatisfying result meant to set up a sequel (which we will never see), the film was not anywhere near what it could have been and pales even more when compared to the list of films at the beginning of this review.

Mile 22 is far too far to go.

1.9 stars

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

A brutal and emotional performance from Joaquin Phoenix highlights this odd and nonconformist revenge flick.  You Were Never Really Here was released earlier this year in a limited nature and has found its way onto iTunes for streaming.

Lynne Ramsay wrote and directed this movie that finds itself trying very hard to keep its main hero Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) in a dreamlike stance.  Joe was a traumatized war vet who was now a hired gun, was hired by a New York senator to bring back his daughter who had been kidnapped, but Joe was slowly descending into his own damaged psyche.

To be honest, I had a hard time following this and I was dozing off in several sections, not a good sign for a revenge movie.

Joaquin Phoenix was tremendous in this role, bringing a certain gravitas to the part.  You believed how Joe was slipping away and was on the verge of suicide the entire film.  And the fact that you are never quite sure whether or not something was real.

The imagery here seems to overpower the story and, while that can be okay, I found it a bit too artsy for my taste.

An award caliber performance from a wonderful actor does not do enough to surpass the material for me.  While I appreciate the originality, I needed more.

2.5 stars