adventure

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” Review

Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!  While I could annoy you with excuses reasons as to why it took me over 2 weeks to publish a review (like realizing that the seats at my new AMC get booked really fast), that would be weak and unprofessional.  Instead, I’ll talk about my firsthand exposure to the horror of… pre-movie commercials!  I drastically overestimated how long it would take me to get to this matinee, so I had about 40 minutes of filler to sit though before the movie actually started.  Now, I’m not talking about the trailers for movies that will play in a theater, I’m talking about those ads that air when you’re taking a pee-break from PBS.  Lo and behold, I’m stuck in a scratchy chair, without the use of my phone because I ran out of data, and the commercials are unbearably generic.  All except for the one where I got to see Mark Wahlberg talk to Gumball Waterson.  That was fun.  Once the nightmares concluded, I could finally be treated to one of the most potentially-abhorrent adaptations of all time.  Let’s begin.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is directed by David Soren and written by Nicholas Stoller and David Soren.  Stars: Thomas Middleditch, Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, and Jordan Peele.  Premise-The lives of two joke-making schoolkids are forever changed when they hypnotize their mean principal into becoming Captain Underpants (a superhero the boys created for their comics).

Remember when Blue Sky Studios released The Peanuts Movie 2 years ago?  It was an adaptation of a classic source material meant for children, animated in energetic 3D, everyone thought it would suck, and by a miracle from heaven, it was actually good.  Well, DreamWorks seems to have taken a few notes from the most forgettable animation company of modern time and the result is a thoroughly passable venture.  I love Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants novels.  Clever humor, satirical storytelling, and a thorough understanding of the spirit of childhood.  When I first heard the mere idea of a film adaptation, I could not fathom how they could stretch the stories into 90 minutes.  Then again, The Peanuts Movie did it right, let’s see how Captain Underpants accomplished this.

The first thing I must praise is the voice-acting.  While Middleditch sounds way too old to voice a 9 year old (Harold), Kevin Hart actually changed his voice for this role (unlike in Secret Life of Pets).  Also, Jordan Peele is excellent (he voices a white kid, and I couldn’t tell it was him), and Ed Helms’s energy as the hero is impossible to resist.  What’s better is that the animation brings each of these characters to life.  You guys know I’m not that big a fan of 3D, but its best uses are with adaptions like Wreck-It Ralph, The Peanuts Movie, The Angry Birds Movie.  The character designs are perfect, and the fast-paced writing allows for some entertaining slapstick and visual gags.

When it comes to the story… eh, it’s hard to talk about.  In regards to my question about how they could get 90 minutes out of a book with less than 150 pages, the writers attempted to combine the first, second, and fourth novels.  I say attempted, because the narrative is very disjointed.  If you never read the books, it’ll be less distracting, but certain scenes felt out of leftfield.  There are also a few terribly-sung musical numbers (I get the point, but Middleditch can’t sing), and there are a few clichés that grate on you.  Despite this, the writing is actually more intelligent than you’d expect.  This movie has an unholy amount of self-awareness.  There are just as many jokes for adults as there are for the kids.  And by “adult jokes” I don’t mean gross sex puns, or obnoxious stereotypes (the ones that made The Angry Birds Movie so unfunny), I mean self-referential humor that pokes fun at clichés of the genre.  Obviously, this wasn’t done as well as say, The Lego Batman Movie, but it is no less appreciated here.  Above all, the show knows it’s for kids.  There are a few fourth wall jokes here and there when the characters talk directly to the kids in the audience.  Wouldn’t you know it; the children in the theater loved it.

Alright, another one bites the dust.  I hope you enjoyed this review, because I recommend it to anyone with kids or fond memories of the novels.  Heck, I wrote a book report on this series a few years back, and I can comfortably say that I enjoyed watching an animated, middle-aged man parade around in his underpants for 90 minutes.  More reviews coming soon!  Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

My Thoughts On: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Poor Guy Ritchie.  The guy can’t catch a break after Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (which I thought was fine).  I mean, The Man from U.N.C.L.E was unbelievably forgettable, and was such a box office disaster; I thought he wouldn’t get to make another movie for a while.  Luckily, some studio had faith in him, now we can see his interpretation of one of England’s most famous legends.  Unfortunately, you’ll be wishing they never pulled the sword from the paper mache stone after watching the end result.

To its credit, King Arthur is the most visually interesting Ritchie film (after Sherlock Holmes) I’ve seen.  Oh, I’m not talking about the F/X (which look unbelievably cheap); I mean the sets, costumes, and some of the cinematography.  Good thing too, because the characters are bland as white bread.  While Charlie Hunam gives a decent performance, I can’t remember anyone from the movie, probably because the screenwriters used token “adventure” clichés as characters.  It would be easy to list them off, but I’d rather talk about the worst one: Arthur himself.  Instead of being a bad*** swordfighter whose strong-willed, diligent personality never surrenders; Arthur is reduced to the “reluctant hero” trope.  Mhm, the most tedious version of “the chosen one” plotline is our protagonist for 2 incredibly long hours.  If that wasn’t enough, his backstory is exactly the same as the story of Moses (there is even a scene where he’s sent down a river in a basket as a baby).  Oy, these characters are forgettable.

It’s a shame really.  There are moments of classic Ritchie brilliance (an interrogation scene in particular is hilarious), the music and production is cool, and when the movie actually wants to be awesome, it is.  I don’t know much about King Arthur lore, aside from that line in Tomb Raider: Legend where Alister states that Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone were, “Two bloody different stories!”  What I can tell you is that this movie’s bland story is not saved by a neutered PG-13 rating and a lack of satisfying action sequences.  King Arthur: Legend of the Sword gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Review

I wonder how long it’ll be until Marvel finally kills off some of its main characters.  Only at that point will their cinematic universe truly open to new stories.  I say this because the formulas for the modern superhero movie are slowly making each installment more predictable.  In the meantime, we have a film that screams “capitalization.”  Either that or it’s just a sequel that pales in comparison to its predecessor.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is written/directed by James Gunn.  Stars-Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper.  Premise-During one of their adventures (and getting into trouble at the same time), the Guardians learn more about their leader’s (Star-Lord) childhood.

The biggest problem with Guardians 2 is the writing.  No offense to Gunn (whose ideas started the trend of superhero movies having retro soundtracks), but this script needed another brain working on it.  Perhaps you see it differently, but this film felt really awkward to me.  Some of the jokes felt rushed or were not delivered well; especially whenever they try to use profanity (the PG-13 rating neuters some of these jokes).  It’s difficult to phrase, but the movie doesn’t have the flow of the original.  One thing that attributes to that is the terrible cutting.  I don’t know if it was written or edited this way, but there are many scenes that cut away at inopportune times.  For example, Star-Lord is about to learn something critical about his past, but the scene randomly cuts to the subplot involving Yondu.  I wouldn’t mind as much if this was a one-time thing, however, this occurs at least 3 times.  It kinda ruins the moment.  Still, the movie isn’t without its charm.

The cast may actually be better this time around.  That’s because they have much more development.  I don’t know why critics are saying the characters aren’t fleshed out; there are more character-focused scenes than actiony, space ones.  The first movie was similar to a television pilot in terms of character.  We got their backstories, personalities, and some interplay between them.  This movie bumps it up a notch.  The drama is outstandingly affective, and it kept the movie from getting boring.  Bautista, Rooker, and Cooper, especially get to shine with their material.  Which is great considering the action sequences and CGI are way too cartoony this time around (but the sets are fantastic).

Well, that was short.  Sorry if you were expecting 20 paragraphs of in-depth criticism, but that’s really all I have to say.  In essence, it’s not as good as the first one.  Heck, the soundtrack isn’t one-fifth as memorable as the first.  The best comparison I can come up with is the difference between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back movies.  The first was much more fun and action-packed, while the second was darker and focused on the characters.  That said, most people prefer Empire Strikes Back, so I’ll let you decide if time Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is worth your time.  But for me, it gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

Disney Remakes: and Their Effect on the Industry

“Really?  Another online millennial complaining about remakes?  Let me guess: he hates the Ghostbusters remake, lives in his parents’ basement, and thinks his opinion is the only correct one.”  Hey!  I’m moving into a dorm in August…  Anyway, let’s talk about something that has been punching my frontal lobe for over 2 years.  I kept my patience during Maleficent, I tolerated a remake that added just as many problems as it fixed (Cinderella 2015), I gave Jon Favreau the proper praise for his Jungle Book, and I’ve completely forgotten Pete’s Dragon (2016).  However, what I, and most others judging by the reactions, did not know was that Disney had been planning a massive “remake” franchise.  This very concept infuriates my creative core, and this post is essentially going to be an informal essay on why I believe so.  If anyone wants to challenge my undeniably logical arguments, then make your way to the comments, where I eagerly await to enter “YouTube comment debater” mode!  In all seriousness, I’d really appreciate your feedback with these projects; it’s one of the best ways to learn.  Rant time!

As we all know, Walt Disney was (among many things) a brilliant businessman.  While fighting his way through war, financial insecurity, securing the rights to stories he wanted to tell, and starting his business, Disney was diligently creating one of the world’s most diversified, universal, influential, powerful, profitable, and successful companies in the history of man.  However, the company had to start somewhere.  Before you think this post is a biography of Walt Disney, fear not.  This is only context for how we got to present day Disney, because the film portion of Disney Studios was based off of adapting previously published stories.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and many others were all books with similar settings.  All Disney did was adapt them into animated films for child audiences, but oh, did he do it well.  It took very little time for the business to launch, fast-forward about a century or so, and we are at present day.

Mickey Mouse is kicking butts and taking names.  After procuring Marvel and Lucasfilm, they’ve had an almost monopoly-like control over the box office.  If you add the box office gross of The Jungle Book (2016), Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and Zootopia, you get over 4.1 BILLION dollars!  Do you know how much money that is?  Disney certainly does, because they have greenlit over 5 completely unnecessary live-action remakes of their classic films.  Take note that only 1 out of those 4 movies was not based off a familiar product (Zootopia).  This brings me to my first argument (no, it’s not because these movies “ruined my childhood”); these remakes have no point.

To properly explain what makes a great remake, let’s talk about the greatest film remake of all time, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).  I read John W. Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There? (the short story the movie is based on), I watched The Thing from Another World (1951), and I watched Carpenter’s 1982 remake, if there is anyone who understands this story, it’s me.  What I find fascinating is that Carpenter’s version is more faithful to the short story than the first film.  The Thing from Another World is passable, but it has many problems.  So, what does horror master Mr. Carpenter (hot off of Halloween and Escape from New York) do?  Take what made the original work, update the production design, add more character development, and pull no punches.  If you haven’t seen The Thing, please get yourself a copy and watch it because it’s one of the top ten best horror movies of all time.  This is because the material was updated for a newer audience, and the idea behind the remake wasn’t, “Hey, let’s capitalize on something we know made money before!”  The Thing (and others like Scarface, True Grit, and both Magnificent Seven films) proved that remakes can be even better than the original.  So why then is a company known for its creativity and creating warm childhood memories deciding to rehash those memories under the guise of calling them “reimaginings?”  The short answer is that guy in the title picture.  The long answer is more complicated.

In my minor experience, Hollywood likes to play it safe.  The pattern is so universal, audiences expect to see crap in January, blockbusters in the summer months, and Oscar-bait come September.  I somewhat understand this (school’s out in summer, take advantage of more people having more time), but at some point, it becomes a very dangerous tradition.  I’m sick of companies refusing new ideas in place of making money, especially if they have too much already (just think of the last production logo you saw on the big screen).  I want to show you this tweet by CinemaSins.  This is what ticks me off the most.  How many Pulp Fiction/La La Land/Inception scripts were rejected in place of giving us a remake that really has no purpose?  What about the next Steven Spielberg who was left in the waiting room?  Sheesh, The Blair Witch Project was made with sixty-thousand dollars, Star Wars cost $11 million, Hell or High Water required $12 million, and the list goes on.  At this point, “Hollywood is out of ideas” is a freaking punchline due to how many retreads we get.  However, there is hope, in the form of the person reading this post right now.

Check out this screenshot from Rotten Tomatoes (taken a month ago).

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The audience has a lot of control over what is made for them.  This is a no-brainer, you pay money for a certain thing, and more of that thing is made for you (supply and demand).  These companies are merely giving the people what they want.  In the case of positive feedback vs financial revenue, the greenbacks always win.  Because of this, the response is not the problem, that 98% is.  I’m not saying it’s your fault that these sterile remakes are popular (there are so many variables at play), but it is your responsibility to be a “smart shopper” as it were.  One of the main reasons I review movies is to help people decide if something is worth their valuable time and hard-earned money.  Some movies are torture for me to sit through (Vacation 2015), some are delights (Kung Fu Panda 3), and some are just bland and generic (most modern remakes), but the knowledge in knowing that someone is listening keeps me going.  As someone who writes proactively and wants to make movies, it pains me to see the same thing over and over.  What I’m talking about today may not be as horrid as Freddy Got Fingered or Norm of the North, but while those were original products that faded away because of their awfulness, these remakes are setting a trend that smaller, greedier executives will follow, and… it’s a dang shame.

In conclusion, I hope that you now have an understanding as to why I despise this business practice.  Throughout writing this, this thought never left my head, “Perhaps I’m just stating a clichéd criticism.  Maybe all of this will not change anyone’s mind.”  However, I don’t care.  It feels good to finally get my thoughts out there in a formal fashion.  Even if I have no impact, movies could be much, much worse.  At the end of the day, the audience decides what to spend money on.  I leave you with this, what film will you support?  A prettily-disguised cash grab, or a work of ambition that doesn’t fit into “the norm?”

“Fate of the Furious” Review

I have a confession to make: I haven’t seen: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, or the 2009 Fast & Furious.  I say this because Fate of the Furious is more continuity-heavy than Furious 7 (and because I’m honest with my audience).  In addition, Fate of the Furious is not as simply enjoyable as Furious 7.  Yeah, that’s a good intro.

Fate of the Furious is directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Chris Morgan.  Stars-Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, Tyrese Gibson, Charlize Theron, Chris Bridges, and Kurt Russell.  Premise-Dom’s crew must track down their leader after he goes rogue for a mysterious woman.

Yes, greedy Hollywood producers have predictably stomped on a dead actor’s grave while greenlighting 100 more unnecessary sequels.  Even though the tagline for the previous film was, “One last ride,” the plot wrapped up nearly every character’s arc, and the emotional ending that brought tears to audiences eyes were all clearly saying, “That’s all folks,” you cannot argue with the 1.5 BILLION dollars Furious 7 grossed.  Because of this, we have an action film that pushes the envelope in more ways than one.

I know I’ll be called a hypocrite for thoroughly enjoying Furious 7 and then disliking the sequel (even though they are basically the same movie), but here is the game changer: the amount of drama.  In Furious 7, the most serious it got were those amnesia flashbacks.  However, things get really personal with Fate of the Furious.  Charlize Theron (collecting her paycheck while sporting a really stupid haircut) plays the villain whose entire character is written straight out of “Psychopathic Antagonist” Volume 1.  She speaks only in evil whispers, has a weird character design, and manipulates the main protagonist by using the most predictable cliché in the book (can’t say it because of spoilers, but you could probably guess what she does).  These movies are at their best when the drama is light and the over-the-top action is high.  Sadly, every scene with Theron is very hard to watch.  Not to say that what she does to Dom is a bad motivation; it’s because these movies should never be this depressing to watch.  Especially when these scenes are preceded/followed by the goofy characters joking around.  To be honest, I would have enjoyed the movie much more as a whole if these scenes were cut, because once my suspension of neutrality is broken, other problems stand out much more.  One of these problems is the clichés.  Unbelievable physics and invulnerable characters are acceptable (if you watch any of these movies expecting realism, show yourself out), but you can predict pretty much every scene, and that is a bore.

On the bright side, the action scenes are awesome!  If the previous film was too unbelievable for you, the races, chases, and shootouts are well-choreographed and fast-paced.  If you switch off your brain (a requirement at this point), these action sequences are a marvel.  Heck, the New York portion of the film is more over-the-top than any GTA 5 stunt video you’ll ever see.  Another notable scene takes place in a prison, and it gives The Rock his most awesome movie moment since the montage in The Rundown.  The rest of the cast is decent as well.  While Gibson and Bridges teeter on the edge of annoying and funny, Eastwood/Russell and Statham/Johnson have great chemistry, and the rest of the cast is fine.

Ultimately, this movie is exactly what you’d expect.  Transformers levels of stupidity, clichéd plotlines, and a whole lot of testosterone-fueled explosions.  If the filmmakers didn’t inappropriately try their hand at drama, then the film would require nothing from its audience.  After all, that’s why these movies are successes: dumb fun without the emotional connection.  Fate of the Furious gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

“Power Rangers” (2017) Review

I can’t come up with a fresh intro, so here is some context.  I love the Power Rangers shows!  Campy, but fun; formulaic, but entertaining; they serve as very fond childhood memories of mine (S.P.D. and Samurai were my favorite generations).  When they announced a film adaptation, I had the usual Internet response: insta-rage.  Not only did they hire the director of Project Almanac (loads of potential, crappy execution), but the script went through multiple writers before being turned into a 2 hour screenplay that is supposed to set up a universe which rivals that of Marvel.  Well, if Lionsgate wants to milk 6 sequels out of this movie, it better grab the audience’s attention with likable characters, a clever plot, and jaw-dropping visuals.  Or they could just rip-off Chronicle.

Power Rangers is directed by Dean Israelite and written by: John Gatins, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, and Kieran Mulroney.  Stars-Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader, and Bryan Cranston.  Premise-A group of high school students come across some otherworldly technology and after an accident, come away from it with superpowers.  As per the ususal, now they must save the world.

I should probably preface this review by saying that I don’t recall all the lore and characters from the entire franchise.  I’m not even certain which generation this movie is based on.  However, I know what made the series’ work, and thus, I reside in the section of the audience who grew up with the originals.  In addition, I understand the main concern people had with the movie ever since the freaking costumes were released: “Is it going to take itself too seriously?”  The charm of this franchise comes from the corniness and lighthearted tone.  To turn that into an obnoxiously serious, brooding drama would result in… Batman v Superman (and we all know how well that one turned out).  To make things perfectly clear, being “dark” is not the problem, poor screenwriting is.  How can The Dark Knight be universally praised for its dark tone and adult themes while Batman v Superman is despised for its somber style and gloomy character arcs?  Aside from the fact that Christopher Nolan is an angel from cinema heaven; The Dark Knight developed its characters and didn’t spend half the dialogue setting up future installments.  In the case of Power Rangers, it’s definitely darker than the shows, but they balance it out with plenty of humorous moments.  Unfortunately, the movie isn’t very good at comedy, or action, or pacing, or…

Despite these young actors trying their hardest, the material they’re given is garbage.  I made the comparison to Chronicle because Power Rangers follows its first act to a T.  These characters are extremely clichéd high school stereotypes.  Subsequently, we get to see all the gloriously overdone character arcs and easy-to-write backstories that come with them.  I’m not going to pretend that the shows had mind-blowing characters, but they had plenty of charm.  These guys literally spell out what their main character trait is “I’m insane!”  “What’s up crazy girl?”  “The ‘golden boy’ of our little town.”  It makes for some extremely unengaging characters.  I’ll admit, there is a lot of time dedicated to character development, but what we get is not very original.  It doesn’t help that 80% of the dialogue is painfully bland exposition.

Despite the character faults, the action could make up for it.  Ughhhhhh; that’s where the other half of the problems lie.  While the F/X and costumes are decent, it takes forever for us to actually see the Power Rangers!  You have to sit through 90 slow minutes of boring high school ridiculousness before any cool stuff happens.  Also, the pacing is yawn-inducing, and the camerawork is crappy (ugly Dutch angles, shaky cam, the usual).  What’s especially aggravating is the third act.  More clichés are abused!  We get a fake out death (it’s not a spoiler because you know the movie won’t actually do it), followed by one of the worst examples of “Talking Killer Syndrome” (a term crated by Roger Ebert to describe bad guys who monologue instead of kill), and a very disappointing climax.  The fight choreography is ok and the scale is fun, but the battle sequence ached for more time devoted to it.  Hopefully the sequels are more action-drewn, but this movie never measures up to the potential.  Honestly, it would have been outstanding if it was directed by Edgar Wright.  The source material would be perfect for his style of humor.  He can do action quite well (Scott Pilgrim, Hot Fuzz), and the genre lends its way for clever satire.  Sadly, I ain’t that lucky.  With that, the review is over.

Is Power Rangers an unnecessary adaptation that’s worth your time (like Warcraft or 2016’s The Magnificent Seven)?  Or is it an unnecessary adaptation that you should burn with hellfire (Maleficent, 2016’s Ghostbusters, Assassins Creed, 2015’s Vacation, etc.)?  That is entirely up to you.  In my (packed) theater, the parents looked bored, but the kids were having a blast.  Most critics don’t like the film, but most audiences enjoyed it.  As for me, there was not enough cool stuff to overshadow the blandness.  Then again, I did sit though Monster Trucks and Life (2017) so a film about angsty teens talking to Bryan Cranston’s wall-face doesn’t seem too bad.  Power Rangers gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

“Inferno” Review, Books vs. Movies, and The Robert Langdon Series

Prepare to be ripped apart you pathetic excuses for adaptations!  Back in February of 2016, I watched The Da Vinci Code on Netflix for no particular reason.  By the time it was over, my “Confusion-o-Meter” was off the charts.  I knew it was an adaptation (one with some interesting ideas), so I got my hands on the original novel by Dan Brown and gave it a shot.  Wow.  I couldn’t put that book down!  Interesting characters, great suspense, and a spiritual setting unlike any I’ve seen in a novel (the epilogue still gives me the chills).  What followed was a marathon of reading both the books in the series and watching their film adaptations.  I wanted to write this thing when the Inferno movie was released in theaters last year, but I hadn’t finished the book, and Ron Howard was NOT going to ruin another one of these incredible endings for me!  I finally got a copy and watched it… oh my gosh.  Had I seen it in time, this pile of cinematic waste would rank pretty dang high on my Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016 list.

Anyway, today we are doing something special.  In addition to reviewing Inferno, I’m going to throw my twenty-two cents (inflation) into the hat on the “books vs. movies” debate, as well as Dan Brown’s controversial books.  It’s gonna be awhile, so strap in and grab your popcorn because this is going to be a very emotional experience.

Inferno is directed by Ron Howard and written by David Koepp.  Stars-Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, and Irfan Khan.  Premise-After waking up in a hospital, with amnesia, in Italy, Professor Robert Langdon must elude a secret service agency whilst trying to recall what he was doing before he lost his memory.  All he knows is that whatever he was doing was worth a billionaire’s suicide, a strangely curious doctor’s assistance, and the lives of billions.

This is going to be a spoiler-filled hybrid review, but I am going to avoid spoiling the books as much as possible because you should read them regardless of how badly the movies basterdize them.  That said, they changed the second half of Inferno so much that you’d swear they adapted a different book!  The very first scene is only the beginning of the torrent of crappyness we are about to be subjected to.  Billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Foster) is being chased through the city of Florence, Italy (in a very poorly shot chase scene).  When he is cornered atop a tower, Zobrist intentionally falls off to his death.  We then cut to Langdon in a hospital where he is experiencing migraines and memory flashes.  Doctor Sienna Brooks (Jones) informs him that he was shot in the head and left with amnesia from the bullet (which grazed his skull).  After an assassin shows up (obviously for Robert) and shoots a supervising doctor, Brooks helps Langdon escape the hospital.

This brings me to my first of far too many issues with Inferno; Robert Langdon is a freaking moron!  Never once does he question why a seemingly random doctor keeps helping him on his quest to find out why he’s being hunted.  I can buy her taking him out of harm’s way, but she takes him to her apartment, gives him some clothes (that fit too perfectly), and when he produces a biotube from his bag she helps him decipher it.  At some point, any human with half a wit would ask, “Why the heck are you joining me on this quest across Europe to find a secret cave?  Especially when I’m being pursued by secret service agents, and my only lead is a map of Dante’s Inferno (the first third of poet Dante Alighieri’s ‘The Divine Comedy’)?”  In case you’re wondering, amnesia doesn’t take away the ability to ask basic questions.

Robert Langdon may not be a superhero, or a historical revolutionary, but he is one of my favorite literary protagonists.  I’m not saying anything groundbreaking when I say that Brown’s novels demand quite a lot of suspension of disbelief, as well as faith and focus.  There are MAAAAANY people who dislike these stories because of their “impossible premises.”  Either that or easily enraged immature audiences who claim these books are “anti-religious propaganda” or that all seculars/atheists are idiots.  Both of these arguments are ridiculous and invalidated by Langdon alone.  He is a Harvard symbology professor with an incredibly likable personality.  As you would expect, he’s a bit of a skeptic.  Not against the idea of religion, but his intellectual mind doesn’t “allow” him to believe in such things (if you want to hear some mind-blowing debate on science vs. God, read Angels & Demons).  A quote from Langdon himself, “Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.”  It is Langdon’s down-to-earth views that make him an excellent character to follow on these, admittedly improbable, adventures.  He’s kinda like Dan Fogler in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, only Langdon is brought along because he can decipher cryptic clues and, well, he is the central hero.  The books are worth reading purely for this well-written character.

Back to Inferno, we get some *ahem* “disturbing” imagery that is taken right out of Dante’s Map of Hell.  Only problem is, they CGI’d the heck out of it, and the result looks horrible!  If the crazy editing wasn’t annoying enough, we get at least a dozen mini-flashbacks from Langdon’s fragmented memory.  Half of those flashbacks contain these ugly looking effects that come right the heck out of nowhere.  Despite how bad What Dreams May Come is; at the very least they nailed the set design and visuals.  Inferno looks cheap as heck.  I considered going through as much of the story as possible, but then I realized that most of it was pure exposition.  That’s another problem; this movie treats its audience like children.  In addition to dialogue that only exists to explain the plot, there are a few instances where text on the screen will be spoken by a character. As if to say, “We [the filmmakers] don’t think you have the brain capacity to read, or recall information.  Have a nice day, and thanks for your money, we’ll use it to fund the remake of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Dwayne Johnson.”  While I would be satisfied with giving this film two “birds,” I’d like to point out that these novels are not for younger audiences.  If the religious and historical themes aren’t enough, we also have issues like international terrorism, insanity, and mass genocide in the plot!  In addition, this movie was directed by the guy who made: Parenthood, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, and A Beautiful Mind (which won him two Oscars!).  Each of these dealt with adult themes and complex issues with grace and maturity, you’d think he could use some of the ol’ talent with a series that he apparently loves.  The final nail in the proverbial coffin would be the writer, David Koepp who penned: Snake Eyes, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible, Premium Rush, and Jurassic Park!  You’d think he could craft an entertaining thriller!

If you were wondering why they didn’t adapt The Lost Symbol book before Inferno, then ask Ron Howard who replied with, “We didn’t know how to make something that would really feel fresh and exciting, on a cinematic level for audiences.”  I don’t buy that.  You guys adapted the first two, why was The Lost Symbol so difficult?  Also, you’re one of Hollywood’s most famous/best actors-turned-directors.  Your movies have collectively grossed over 3.3 billion dollars, and you beat Peter Jackson, Robert Altman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch for Best Director.  I’m pretty sure you can take on a historical thriller set in Washington D.C.  Barring that, we all know the real reason why they skipped The Lost Symbol, it wasn’t as big of a success as the previous two books.  There is no amount of well-researched rhetoric that can convince me that the producers weren’t drooling over the sales of The Da Vinci Code in theaters (as it was #1 in the box office opening weekend and made over $700 million worldwide).  What I am saying is, Howard, you’re better than this.

Inferno reeks of laziness.  I don’t know how they managed to convolute the plot even more than they did with The Da Vinci Code.  That movie’s biggest problem was how boring it was.  Angels & Demons’ biggest problem was how forgettable it was.  Inferno’s biggest problem is EVERYTHING.  Ron Howard’s only Razzie nomination was for The Da Vinci Code (in all seriousness, the lackluster direction led to most of the issues), but the amount of failure present in Inferno rivals that of Miracles from Heaven.  If you want a perfect example, Langdon’s amnesia is wildly inconsistent.  In two separate scenes, Langdon states that he cannot remember his middle name, and what coffee is (it is explicitly stated that his memory is short-term, those two things should not be affected).  All this does is embarrass Tom Hanks, who has to spend most of the movie with this ridiculous expression on his face (and needs to fire his agent).  The performances can’t save this picture either.  Hanks is stumbling his way through every scene (at least they got rid of his stupid haircut from the first two films), Foster doesn’t have enough screentime to shine, and Jones is atrocious!  Again, Howard’s direction was probably a hindrance on the set rather than a help because these actors are not trying.

In keeping with being unfaithful to the source material, literally NONE of the characters are the same as they are in the novel.  I’d use that old critic saying, “I know it’s an adaptation, obviously some things have to be changed” but that is both obvious and kinda giving the filmmakers an excuse to change something that’s already perfect.  I will admit that these particular books would be difficult to adapt to the big screen, but that’s why you have to try.  Especially if these are not studio mandated projects as Howard claims.  The movie has no concept of logic or pacing.  It’s even more difficult to get pacing right in books because everyone reads at their own pace as opposed to everyone watching the same screen in real time.  While the adaptations of Angels & Demons and Inferno are mercifully fast-paced, they cut out the best things in each book.  With Angels & Demons, they took away all the great humor and character moments, neutered the villain, and brushed over the incredible religious/political/scientific/cultural commentary.  In the case of Inferno, it barely resembles the novel.  Let’s get back to the movie.

After completely cutting out one of the most suspenseful scenes in the book and replacing it with, “Hey look, there’s the way out,” Langdon and Brooks learn what is going on.  To sum it up: Zobrist was a transhumanist, someone who believes that humans can evolve through the use of technology, who’s strongest belief was that the human race will destroy itself if overpopulation continues to inflate.  After being ignored by the world’s top scientific minds (and most of the public), Zobrist went into hiding through the use of an organization called The Consortium.   After committing suicide, he left cryptic clues as to where his genetically created “inferno” (that he states will solve the humanity problem for good) is located.  Yes, we have yet another bad guy who hates humans and whose master plan is to kill a bunch of ’em (you may recall this unique-but-tired plot in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Kingsman: The Secret Service).  This isn’t the movie’s fault-just like the fact that it’s an amnesia storyline-the book used these clichés first.  Despite that, the movie made some major deviations from the character arcs.  The climax particularly is beyond infuriating, especially to someone who loves the novels.

You see, Sienna Brooks was apparently Zobrist’s lover, and she has been leading Robert on the whole trip so she could ensure his device will be undisturbed.  She betrays him back in Italy and he is captured by his pursuers.  These enemies turn out to be an organization (that I’m not going to spoil) that denounced Zobrist’s overpopulation concerns.  They quickly explain why they were after him, and what is at stake.  An hour of exposition later, they fly to Istanbul where Zobrist’s “inferno” is going to be released, the Basilica Cistern specifically, which would make a great breeding ground for a deadly plague. After a horribly choreographed fight scene involving Irfan Khan (director of The Consortium), 2 random stuntmen henchmen, and Felicity Jones phoning it in (which is hilarious because her character is a thespian in the book), Brooks pulls the pin on a grenade in an attempt to rupture the bag that “inferno” is contained in.  She kills herself in the process and fails to release the plague.  Oh boy, time to go on a rant!

First of all, Sienna does not kill herself in the book, nor is “inferno” a plague.  Of all the characters in the movie, she was the one they changed the most.  In the book, she is: calculated, sympathetic, extremely resourceful, quick-thinking, blonde, and a great character.  In the film, she’s: a brunette, doesn’t contribute much, and everything interesting about her was completely written-out.  Considering that 2016 was the year of the feminist agenda, I’m amazed that so little fuss was made over the butchering of Sienna Brooks’ character.  It could have something to do with the pitiful $34 million it made domestically, but still.  Inferno isn’t the best book in the series, but it has the best female protagonist out of them.  Pretty much all the intelligence and maturity from the book was replaced with cheap thrills and action movie clichés that is the intellectual equivalent to junk food for the mind.  When you read the climax of the novel, it will leave you speechless.  It’s so monumental that it will take a few minutes for your mind to process it.  Ok, I can’t take any more, let’s wrap this up.

Typically, when one reviews an adaptation, they cannot compare it to the original source material.  An adaptation can be reviewed by someone who has seen the original, and someone who has not seen the original.  The only difference is opinion.  I wanted to write this because these great literary works have been thoroughly ruined 3 times too many.  The only thing that remained decent in all three films is Hans Zimmer’s music (for reference, listen to the buildup in this, the intensity of this, and the mystery of this) which provided me with a much needed reminder that even the worst films can contain a diamond in the rough.  When all is over and done with, the sacred novels are still here, and still awesome.  But for now, Inferno gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an F.

This was the first of many projects I have planned for 2017.  Yep, the fun/experimentation didn’t stop with Brian De Palma Month, we have many more to go.  Comment and tell me what you thought of this post.  Or say nothing and let me pretend that I did a good job.  Thank you.

The Robert Langdon Series Ranked

Angels & Demons (2000 Novel)-A+

A perfect mix of action, science, historical art, religious commentary, character, humor, and pacing make this book one of the best I have ever read.  It remains timeless/relevant to this day, and I recommend that everyone should read it.  Also, the villains in Angels & Demons are frighteningly effective.

The Da Vinci Code (2003 Novel)-A-

It’s more subtle (i.e. slower and more detailed) than Angels & Demons, but still thrilling and creative.

The Da Vinci Code (2006 Film)-D

This movie is ungodly boring!  The (seemingly perfect) cast is wasted, the screenplay is lifeless, and it’s shot like garbage.

Angels & Demons (2009 Film)-C-

The only reason this movie is better than the predecessor is the faster pace.  Otherwise, the villains are underdeveloped, the suspense is weak, and the commentary is ground-level easy.

The Lost Symbol (2009 Novel)-B-

Removing the religious elements from this one lowered the stakes/interest, but on its own, The Lost Symbol is a decent mystery that takes full advantage of the setting, (and a shocking twist).

Inferno (2013 Novel)-A-

The amnesia cliché and pre-established formula hold it back, but the urgency, art references, and amazing ending make it more than just a simple action thriller.

Inferno (2016 Film)-F

Did you not read the review?

Top Ten Best Movies of 2016

I don’t know what to write here, so let’s just talk about some dang good movies!

 

Rules: This list contains movies from 2016 that I have watched in their entirety.  Whether I reviewed them or not doesn’t matter (links to the movies I have written about will be provided).  Only theatrical releases can be on this list.  The grades I gave them in their reviews do not matter; it is a comparison of the best movies form last year that I saw.  Finally, this is my list, with my opinions, and my praise, so enjoy!

 

#10 – Zootopia

Yes, that “rules” paragraph was copy-pasted from my other list (problem?), but here is a movie without a shred of redundancy.  My opinion has wavered over how rock solid the commentary is, but one thing is certain, Zootopia is a clever look at society with the charm and likability of a Disney renaissance film.  The characters (if they are not a stereotype) are brimming with personality, the voice acting is amiable, and the animation is some of the best 3D has to offer.  Zootopia is overrated, but for very good reason.

#9 – The Lobster/Swiss Army Man

What is dis?  Two movies for one spot?  How dare I!  It’s my list, so roll with it.  I was in a major state of hopelessness before I watched these movies.  I really needed to see something original to combat the slew of pandering garbage.  I was excited and apprehensive to see both of these films because their trailers left much to the imagination.  I’ve been meaning to talk about both of these movies since I first watched the last year, but other things took priority.  By now, you probably know the plots of these movies, and you should watch them if not.  What’s fascinating is how eerily similar they are.  Both are love stories, they each have fantasy elements, they both have a 7.1 IMDb rating, neither of them follow “traditional” writing, and they were both incredible refreshers in a crappy film year.  The casts are given a lot to work with, the soundtracks are magnificent, and the oddball humor almost always hits it’s mark.  Most critics prefer The Lobster and most audiences prefer Swiss Army Man, but as far as this Internet nobody is concerned, they are equally original, equally entertaining, and equally important.

#8 – The Magnificent Seven

Many a time has passed when I fantasize about Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne entering reality, hunting down the people who gave this movie a poor rating, and asking them in a half-friendly tone (while brandishing an axe), “Now why did y’all have to do that?”  Is that normal?  Can you blame me?  The Magnificent Seven is one of the best action movies of last year, but it is quite possibly the most underrated gem of that year.  The performances are memorable, the action is brutal, the score is incredible, the cinematography is resplendent, and the mere fact that this movie is not only the rare, “remake of a remake,” but one that manages to be good as well… it’s awesome!  This is Antoine Fuqua’s best film since Shooter in 2007.  And yet, people still call it a worse remake than Ghostbusters 2016.  For those of you who believe that, refer to this list, then this review, then get your brain checked out.  Don’t give me that look; this is a list of movies that I love.  Of course I’m going to defend them!  You get the point, you’re in for some great action when you watch this movie.

#7 – Kung Fu Panda 3

I spent at least 30 minutes debating the order of this movie and the next one on the list.  After re-reading the reviews, thus recalling why I love both of them, I still can’t decide.  I’d put them both in the same spot, but I already did that with The Lobster/Swiss Army Man, and I don’t want to annoy you that much.  Let’s just say that #7 and #6 are interchangeable.

Oops, almost forgot to talk about Kung Fu Panda 3.  I still stand by what I said in the review, “Kung Fu Panda is one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time!”  I cannot think of a film trilogy that improved each time.  Return of the Jedi isn’t as good as its predecessors, nor was Temple of Doom or Dark Knight Rises, and the individual films in the Toy Story and Lord of the Rings trilogies are equally great (at least to me).  I am thoroughly triggered over the Oscar snubbery of this film.  There was not an animated film that looked more beautiful than this one.  Nobody will agree with me, but while Kubo and the Two Strings was detailed, Sing was colorful, and Zootopia was wonderfully designed, the visual appeal in Kung Fu Panda 3 (especially during the spirit world sequences) is not to be missed.  The animation is backed by likable characters, progressive writing, and upbeat humor.  I don’t know what they’ll do with the next movie but I have confidence in this team.  Their effort shows through the finished product, which is entertainment with a big heart.

#6 – Doctor Strange

Superhero movies cannot grow old as long as Marvel keeps churning out exceptional stuff like Doctor Strange!  From the acrobatic choreography, to the charming cast, to the philosophy, to the incredible production quality (i.e. makeup, F/X, costumes, and sets), everything is impressive.  You’ll notice that there are many movies on this list that could be considered “basic entertainment,” but that is perfectly acceptable.  There seems to be two radical thoughts on how “deep” movies can be.  Either “every movie is mindless entertainment,” or “everything has to be Manchester by the Sea levels of emotionally complicated.”  There is such a thing as a lighthearted action flick with some character or moral depth.  There can also be a serious movie with a decent helping of fun action/comedy.  One of the finest examples of this is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  If you think about it, the whole point of the movie was to stop the Nazis (the freaking Nazis!) from getting their hands on a weapon that would allow them to take over the world.  Clever writing and Steven Spielberg’s direction gave the movie more of a “fun adventure” tone, despite the many aspects of it that are not meant for kids.  On the surface, Doctor Strange is a thrilling spectacle of magic, but the developed characters all have very adult reasons for what they believe in.  Bottom line, if you want a superhero flick with the excitement of a summer blockbuster but with the attention to detail of a character piece, Doctor Strange is your movie.  After all, there will be plenty of mature movies now that we are in the top 5.

#5 – La La Land

We wanted a movie with style.  We wanted a movie with originality.  We wanted a movie with effort.  In response, we got La La Land, a beautiful throwback to the musicals of the past.  I never explained how bad of an experience I had at the theater when I watched the movie.  It was… very unpleasant.  After watching more reviews, clips from the film, and listening to the soundtrack on repeat, I’ve grown to like it more.  I still don’t think that “fantasy” thing near the end should have happened, but La La Land is still a feel-good musical with irresistible actors and a soundtrack that is just as great as everyone says.  It’s a movie that sparkles with style, delivers pure entertainment, and radiates passion/effort.

#4 – Hidden Figures

This one has grown on me over time.  The cast brims with talent, every character’s dialogue is intelligent, the score is wonderful, and the pacing is really good.  It felt like I had endured the amount of time the women in the movie did.  When justice is served, it felt earned.  The lighthearted tone mirrors the movie’s most valuable asset… a sense of hope.

#3 – Captain America: Civil War

In a world when audiences across the world are massively disappointed by one of 2016’s biggest misfires (Batman v Superman), Marvel will release a film (no, an event) that will remind us that superhero movies can have compelling story arcs, characters with character, mind-blowing visuals, incredible fight choreography, and a perfect balance of comedy and drama.  To those who have been picking apart every single word in the script, aren’t you taking this superhero movie (that doesn’t’ take itself that seriously) too seriously?  I really like Daniel Brühl’s villain, he had a plan that is legitimately intelligent.  The tension between the 10+ main characters (I’m still amazed at how well they wrote everyone) created more suspense than waiting for the airport scene (that takes really competent direction), and of course, the freaking battle sequences alone make life worth living.

#2 – Hacksaw Ridge

It came down to a tough decision between this move and number 1.  Hacksaw Ridge is one of the two movies of 2016 that drove me to tears (the other was Patriots Day, specifically the ending).  There are so many things this war drama does right… only the direction of Mel Gibson could have done it.  Andrew Garfield shines (as does the rest of the cast), the character’s actions support the message, the technical aspects are a spectacle, and that M.M.M montage cannot be forgotten.  This movie spends it’s time setting up the compelling characters before throwing them into the horrors of Hacksaw Ridge.  It is very hard to watch this movie, but the amount of care and respect that went into it is awe-inspiring.

 

Honorable Mentions

A sequel that ups the characters as much as the production quality, The Conjuring 2 has the dramatic heft to support the terrifying story.

Why wasn’t this nominated for any Oscars?  Seriously, Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter are spot on, their relationship progression felt natural, the time period is captured very well, and the movie doesn’t focus purely on politics.  As far as romances go, it’s one of the best.

After Barbershop 2: Back in Business, this movie had very little to live up to.  But under the competent direction of Malcom D. Lee, a fully-utilized cast, fast-paced humor, relatable characters, and engaging social commentary, The Next Cut became the best film in the trilogy.

  • Arrival

I never got around to reviewing this one because I couldn’t’ form an actual opinion.  One (or four) thing’s for sure, the story is original, the visuals can’t be beat, the score is chilling, and it requires you to use your brain.

  • Nocturnal Animals

This is one of the most elegant movies I have ever seen.  The score (especially “Wayward Sisters”) is beautiful, Tom Ford’s vision is remarkable, the performances (especially Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon) are excellent, and the story is intriguing.  Nocturnal Animals is one experience you won’t soon forget.

  • Loving

It suffers from Jeff Nichols trademarked slow pacing, but Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga’s performances are unbelievably endearing.

Top notch technicals are really second to the incredibly respectful direction, intense acting, and genuine drama.

It has plenty of issues, but the climax is awesome, the characters are likable, and the presentation is amazing.

This movie wasn’t meant for me, but I still appreciate what it accomplished.  It’s a superbly acted drama about regular people (something we don’t get enough of).

  • Lion

The first third is quite boring, but the second Dev Patel (congrats on the Oscar nomination man, you deserve it) arrives on screen, the movie gets better and better.  Not to mention Nicole Kidman’s heartbreaking acting and a tear-jerking climax.

Sing is one of the most innocently enjoyable films I’ve seen in quite some time.  Energetic animation backs up extremely likable (and perfectly casted) characters, completed with a terrific soundtrack.

 

#1 – Hell or High Water

While Hacksaw Ridge was tear-jerkingly dramatic, Hell or High Water is a slow-building, character-driven film about family, banks, old age, regret, and morality.  I can’t describe how detailed the screenplay is.  I’m’ looking forward to Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River because this guy knows what makes any compelling movie… characters.  In Hell or High Water, there is the black and white law, but there are also desperate people who have to break that law to survive.  None of the awards for this movie truly tell you how exceptional the cast is.  Chris Pine and Ben Foster have incredible chemistry, as do Jeff Bridges and Gil Bermingham.  There is such an attention to character in this movie, it is amazing.  This is the type of mature, important film that was so sorely needed in a year of “junk food movies.”

 

There you have it.  We went through a crappy film year, but made it out (as we always do).  I appreciate each and every one of your viewership.  There was more than one personal challenge for me last year, but when I get notified that “X liked your post,” it tells me that someone listened, and it motivates me to work harder.  – Erick

Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016

If I hear one more person say that 2016 was the worst year ever, I will create a time machine just so I can take them back to when the Plague killed off half of Europe.  If that ain’t scary enough for you, we’ll make a pit stop in 1944 Nazi Germany!

I’m sorry.  I really can’t stand the internet over the last couple of months.  Not helping is the fact that I had to sift through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of garbage to make this list (which you better enjoy son!).  Last year brought us a slew of audience-insulting immaturity, bland redundancies, and soul-crushing disappointments.  This list is going to identify and properly bash the worst offenders.

Rules: This list contains movies from 2016 that I have watched in their entirety.  Whether I reviewed them or not doesn’t matter (links to the movies I have written about will be provided).  Only theatrical releases can be on this list.  The grades I gave them in their reviews do not matter; it is a comparison of the worst movies I saw.  Finally, this is my list, with my opinions, and my rage, so enjoy!

 

#10 – Suicide Squad

I’d make a joke about fanboy backlash, but: A, I don’t have enough followers to validate that joke, and B; the followers I do have are thinking people with a maturity level above that of a 6th-grader.  Suicide Squad is awful.  I left the theater in shock, unable to accept that a movie this anticipated, with a cast this impeccable, and a director who I really like, could be as disappointing as it was.  As time went on, I liked this movie less and less.  Whatever leeway I had left for this movie was destroyed by David Ayer’s pretentious responses to naysayers of his oh so precious flick.  The cast is wasted, the plot is a jumbled mess, and the F/X are pathetic.  Somehow, DC managed to produce not one, not two, but three incredibly disappointing bombs last year (Batman v Superman, Batman: The Killing Joke, and this movie).  Suicide Squad is the worst because it had the most potential.  Not only was the cast on-point, but this script had the potential to be funny (much more funny than it was), and the characters all had time to be developed.  What we got was one of 2015’s biggest misfires.

#9 – Alice Through the Looking Glass

Does anyone remember this pointless treacle?  Thought not.  As the year went on, we got better F/X from better movies (Miss Peregrine and Rogue One specifically) so the one thing this movie has going for it is outdated.  I never even brought up the utterly pointless mental hospital scene that is never brought up again in the movie.  What was the plot of Through the Looking Glass?  Why was it made?  Why is Borat the master of time?  All I can say is thank God this movie bombed.

#8 – The Boy

Good gosh there were a lot of bad horror movies in 2016!  While I could see the ideas and slight bit of effort behind Blair Witch (that’s why it’s not on the list), I don’t think anyone in the production team of The Boy had a clue.  The very idea of this movie is a cliché, and the twist (unlike the one in Dead Silence which was also a horror movie about creepy dolls) makes the plot even worse.  I watched The Boy on Netflix a while back cuz I craved some scary thrills.  I was treated to boring characters muddling their way through a plot with barely enough substance to make it to the 90 minute mark.  The few scenes with the doll are occasionally creepy, but there were never any white-knuckling moments.  Basically, this is a horror movie with little substance and poor direction… and the title sucks.

#7 – Triple 9

You will see many movies on this list with great casts.  I cannot overstate this, a stellar cast does not equal a good movie!  With the finished product in mind, literally anyone could have played these cardboard cutouts.  The plot is so incoherent and confusing, you’d swear it was the rough draft before any revises.   The acting itself is lifeless.  The only one who looks like he’s trying is Chiwetel Ejiofor, and the only one with actual character is Casey Affleck.  At least the screenwriter went on to do Patriots Day.  Actually, that makes me wonder if the whole point of this movie was a paycheck for everyone.  Half of the cast went on to make better movies last year, so let’s just forget this utterly forgettable action flick.

#6 – The Secret Life of Pets

Forgive me if I get a bit too angry at Rotten Tomatoes ratings at times.  Essentially, the website is an amalgamation of critical reviews and ratings on most movies.  Technically a movie could be considered better than another if it has a higher percentage.  You have probably read my review of The Secret Life of Pets (since it was one of my most popular reviews from last year), so you know that I hate this movie with a passion.  I think the last time I got that angry at a kid’s movie was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Seriously, The Secret Life of Pets can burn and die.  The plot is copy-pasted Toy Story with no effort, humor, or intelligence, the voice acting is nothing but shouting and wasted talent, and the whole thing reeks of pandering to children.  Sing was produced by the same company, but written by people with passion and the finished product had effort put into it!  This movie’s success is a bad message to production companies that essentially says, “You can still rip off better movies and the returns will extremely high.  All you have to do is include a lot of dumb slapstick for the kids, and cast actors (that no one hates) like Louis C. K. and the Gen X critics will go easy on it.”  Not to mention this movie’s biggest WTFrick aspect… animated cat buttholes.  I rest my case.

#5 – Ben-Hur

I’m sorry, who the heck asked for this movie?  I guess the producers thought they could remake a movie from the 50s and thought younger audience members wouldn’t notice.  How many more crappy remakes that try to ignore the existence of the original are we going to get?  This movie is beyond saving.  If the shaky cinematography, awful editing, wooden performances, lackluster direction, and ugly effects weren’t enough, we also have a script with literally no new ideas.  Instead of subtlety and an epic scale, we have Jesus popping up every other scene like a Jehovah’s Witness, and a claustrophobic feeling (due to the lack of wide, sweeping shots).  How the same director of the extremely entertaining Wanted created this boring retread is beyond me.  The best thing I can say about this waste is that it reminded people how well-constructed the original is.

#4 – Independence Day: Resurgence

Ab-so-lute-ly EVERYTHING about this movie can be summed up in one word, “No.”  The premise?  No.  The acting?  No.  The F/X?  No.  The release date?  Really?  This movie isn’t even bad enough to be considered a throwback to the cheesiness of the 90s.  I should have given it an F, but I digress.  Hopefully Emmerich won’t ever direct again.  What?  They’ve already announced the third sequel and a Stargate remake?  That does it, I’m raiding 20th Century Fox HQ with a shotgun in one hand and bubblegum in the other.

#3 – Ghostbusters

Hey Sony, you racist/sexist scum of the earth, how does box office failure taste?  Somehow I think that the director and writers had a lot less control over the movie than they should have.  I made it very clear in my review that I hate the response to this movie more than the movie itself (but I still hate it).  I thank God everyday this movie was not a box office success, maybe it will tell companies that audiences are NOT THAT FREAKING STUPID.  The jokes (with very little exception) are insulting and juvenile, and the characters are either stereotypes, clichés, nonentities, or pathetic cameos.  On a few levels, I can see this movie working.  For example, the designs of the ghosts have a unique style, but even that was ruined by studio-forced 3D.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this movie to make it so far in this list, but that’s what happens when most of a year’s bad movies are remakes, rip-offs, and sequels.  Hey guys, I have an idea, instead of remaking classics with all-women casts, why don’t you make something original with female heroes?  Maybe then your agenda message would work.

#2 – The Legend of Tarzan

Among the many movies I didn’t see in time to review, this gorilla poop was one of the worst.  Who in the name of Alexander Skarsgård’s pecs thought up this movie and how did they get it made?  Even by Hollywood’s egregious redundancy standards, what was the target audience for this boorfest?  It’s not for fans of the 1999 animated Tarzan since it’s not animated and the plot deals with adult issues, it’s not for hardcore survival enthusiasts because of the PG-13 neutering, and it’s not for people with functioning brains because of how unimaginably ridiculous it is.  While watching this movie, I never once felt like I was watching a Tarzan movie.  In an attempt to be “edgy” The Legend of Tarzan loses the fun adventure that makes up the characters’ personality.  Instead, we get all the clichés, muscly guys saving pretty women whose makeup never smears, a comedic/complaining sidekick (why L. Jackson, why?), a rich white villain who is only after money, and a whole lot a crappy CGI.  Director David Yates has a great talent of blending practical sets (the costumes, makeup, and sets are very impressive) with computer generated effects, but the CGI is way too overused in this movie.  After Mad Max: Fury Road, there is no excuse for choosing F/X over practical stunts (especially if the budget is $180 million).  Every time not-Tarzan is jumping around in the jungle, they zoom the camera out (or shake it around) and cover up the horrendous effect.  It takes the audience out of the experience when we can’t see Tarzan do Tarzan things!  The cast play caricatures instead of characters, and the plot is incoherent and redundant.  This load of idiocy gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D-.

 

Dishonorable Mentions

  • Demolition

Pretentious and confused, Demolition wastes its talented cast (and a couple of decent ideas) on a script with no idea what to say.

Some decent voice acting and smooth animation can’t overcome shoddy character arcs, plot incoherence, and inappropriate sex puns.

If its predecessor didn’t exist, this unnecessary sequel would definitely be on the list.  That said, I stand by my belief that this movie did have more effort put into it than I thought possible.

All fan service and no direction makes movie disappoint.

Kevin Costner is legitimately good, but the movie lacks action, and the concept is half-baked.  By being shorter than Triple 9 (and less confusing), Criminal made it out alive.

If there was ever an example of DC’s ineptitude to deliver on a product, it’s this disappointing exposition dump.  Even Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Jeremy Irons’ performances are all cancelled out by Jesse Eisenberg’s twitchy nonsense.

  • Now You See Me 2

When it’s not kissing the feet of China (gotta get those box office greenbacks), this sequel is farting up plotholes, unnecessary new characters, and stupid visual gimmicks.  Fun Fact: the audience cannot be tricked if they are asleep.

  • Batman: The Killing Joke

From the absolutely baffling relationship between Batman and Batgirl, to the forgettable mobster villain, this adaptation fails from the very first scene.  Then again, if you cut the first 30 minutes, it would be identical to the original comic.

 

#1 – Miracles from Heaven

The cinematographer of Dances with Wolves (one of the most beautiful films of all time) shot this unfocused mess.  Yes, I am still on that!  I can’t believe how bad this movie turned out.  I was a bit hard on Jennifer Garner in the review, so I’d like to say that she was trying.  Unfortunately her character is poor and I really couldn’t have cared less.  The secondary characters are forgettable, and the overall message is contrived at best and lazy at worst.  If this movie’s message was about something like homosexuality, it would have been crucified by audiences.  I haven’t read the book, so it could be as poorly structured as 50 Shades of Grey, or as monumental as To Kill a Mockingbird.  What I do know is that the screenplay can’t create a sense of realism if it tried.  The characters are stereotypes, underdeveloped, or just poorly written.  A fatal flaw of Christian films (this is coming from a Christian, mind you), especially the ones who go out of their way to argue religion, is their one-sided rhetoric.  Obviously the movie is made for a specific audience, but at some point you have to acknowledge the counter-arguments and opposing viewpoints.  Even though the skeptic from The Conjuring 2 was a bit of a strawman, it helped ground the movie in reality and added to the drama.  In the eyes of a secular, this movie could be nothing but unexplained coincidence and forced drama.  Miracles from Heaven is definitely the worst movie of 2016.

 

In contrast to the poor films on the list you just read, the movies on my Top Test Best list are marvelous.  That list will be published in the next few days.  Your viewership has played a part in making 2016 a decent year for me, and for that I thank you.

Brian De Palma Month: “Mission to Mars”

It’s high time we looked at a less-than-stellar (i.e. sucky) film from the man of the month.  Brian De Palma definitely brought us some classics, but every director has his bad day.  We have so much sludge to squelch through, so let’s get going.

Mission to Mars is directed by Brian De Palma and written by: Lowell Cannon, Jim Thomas, John Thomas, and Graham Yost.  Stars-Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, Tim Robbins, Connie Neilson, and Jerry O’Connell.  Premise-While excavating, Astronaut Luke Graham (Cheadle) is left wounded and alone after a brutal sandstorm kills his partners on the abandoned planet, Mars.  Upon receiving a distorted distress signal, a recovery team led by Jim McConnell (Sinise) is sent to Mars to find Graham, as well as the reason for the freak storm.

I said I wouldn’t do spoilers for Brian De Palma month, but that was before I watched this unholy mess of a movie.  There is no way for me to accurately review this movie without spoiling anything.  Most of the time, when I do a spoiler review, it’s because I don’t want people to waste their time with it (like I did with Alice Through the Looking Glass).  It’s not like anyone is going out of their way to watch this thing anyway.

This movie opens with an extended tracking shot (a la Snake Eyes) that introduces us to all the main characters.  Only, this shot is 6 minutes long, filled with exposition instead of clever set ups, awkwardly acted, boringly slow, and really cheesy.  That’s one of the things you’ll notice about Mission to Mars, for a De Palma film, it is sickly positive at times.  I’m not one to tell an artist how they should make their work, but he is at his best when his movies are psychological, dark, Hitchcockian-like thrillers.  Apparently, De Palma was hired after the original director left over budget issues.  What I’m getting at is that this movie feels like it could have been directed by anyone, if the director wanted to disown this movie (like David Fincher did with Alien 3) he could have.  This change in style feels like if Stanley Kubrick directed Dumb and Dumber.

The writing of this movie is the worst thing about it.  The dialogue is composed of 50% exposition, 30% sci-fi nonsense, and 20% of actual character.  We have an excellent cast here, but there is so little for them to work with.  The movie tries to have emotional moments, but they spent so little time making me like these characters.  In addition, the first two acts of this movie are booooooooring!  After the sentient storm, which looks like the worm from Dune if it was made of red sand, kills Cheadle’s team, the writers decided that a rescue mission doesn’t create enough tension, so they pull one of the most pointless plot tangents of all time…are you ready for it?

Sinise, Robbins, Nielson, and O’Connell are almost to Mars (during one of the few scenes of actual character development) when some random asteroids tear a few holes in their ship.  What follows is an overly drawn-out sequence of “Get that hole sealed!  Put on your suit!  Arbitrarily twist some wires!”  The day is saved when Connie Nielsen uses a Dr. Pepper product placement to find the hole in the ship.  Robbins (who is her husband in the movie) seals the ship from the outside and all seems well.  That is until they actually try to land on Mars.  The engines go complete bust (creating a moment of unintentional belly laughing I might add), and they are stranded in space.  Their solution?  Exit the ship in their suits, form a straight line and maintain velocity, find a spaceship-station thing (who cares?), shoot and attach a tow-cable to it, and use that ship to land on Mars.  Here’s one of the scenes that critics actually like, Robbins has to be the one to attach the cable, but he over shoots it and in the process of securing the cable, loses his grip on the ship and floats away.  There are then three fake-out attempts to save him until he sacrifices himself (by taking off his helmet, freezing instantly) to stop his wife from risking her life to save him.

That took one overweight paragraph to explain.  Guess how much time they waste on that?  Thirty fricking minutes!  That is literally one-fourth of this movie’s gratuitous runtime!  Sure, the F/X in those 30 minutes was great, but all that was accomplished was a dead Tim Robbins (who gave the best performance in the movie).  By the time they land on Mars, I forgot why they were going there in the first place.

If you thought that a 30 minute roadblock was the worst thing about this movie, strap in because now we’re getting to the crème de la crap.  Mission to Mars takes the “fiction” part of “science-fiction” to a whole new level.  For one, the gravity of Mars is never consistent.  Mars gravity compared to Earth gravity is about 38% to 100% (100 pounds on Earth is 38 pounds on Mars), but there are some scenes where the characters are jumping around like they’re on the moon, some scenes they are dragging stuff like it was Earth’s gravity, and some scenes do a mixture of the two.

Ok, here it is, the moment we’ve all been waiting for… the ending.  After finding Cheadle in a crazed state, they learn that what caused the storm was sending in the incorrect code.  Ya see, Cheadle’s team found a structure on Mars, their machines showed signs of water inside of a mountain.  As it turns out, that mountain contained the last remaining Martian alien and its ship.  When their machines scanned the structure, the alien mistook it for a response to a code.  The alien has been transmitting half of a genetic code to the team.  In order for the alien to know that they are human, they have to “fill in the blanks” to the code (when finished, the code creates a strand of DNA).  With the help of Cheadle’s research (and a callback to a stupid scene involving M&M’s), Sinise finishes the code and they are allowed to enter the structure.  What follows has got to go down in history as something only post-Signs M. Night Shyamalan could have barfed up.  The alien (whose CGI looks abhorrent) shows the team what really happened.  *I’m struggling not to laugh while I type this*  Millions of years ago, these Martians lived on a planet with a very similar structure as Earth until a fiery asteroid crashed into their planet, turning it into an uninhabitable wasteland.  When all of the Martians left to find another home, one stayed behind, and a few strands of DNA were sent to our Earth.  From those strands, the whole evolutionary system was made, lizards evolved into dinosaurs, and so on.

Did all of that sound confusing to you?  Let me tell ya, nothing in the world could have prepared me for that reveal!  I can’t believe the amount of wrong that is in this ending.  How were humans created?  Why can’t the alien talk?  Where did the asteroid come from?  How did it turn an entire planet to red rocks?  Why does this alien look worse than the F/X in The Lawnmower Man?  Guys, when I saw this, I couldn’t stop laughing.  Never before have I seen a science-fiction movie try so hard but try so little at the same time.  The first two acts of the movie were boring and underwhelming, all of a sudden, the writers want to tell me that freaking Martians are responsible for Earth as we know it today (or in 2020, when this movie takes place)?  As a Christian, this doesn’t offend me, it’s too stupid to do so.  As a guy with common sense, this makes me feel like no one was really trying with this movie.  I can’t do this anymore, end the review.

Mars movies aren’t usually associated with quality.  With the exceptions of the original Total Recall (1990) and The Martian, movies set on the red planet typically suck.  Heck, John Carpenter (Ghosts of Mars) and Tim Burton (Mars Attacks!) couldn’t quite do it justice.  Even Red Planet came out the same year as Mission to Mars; clearly Hollywood was in a rough spot.  In the end, Brian did his best with what he had (and what little time), but the result is pure trash, with the occasional nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It’s a shame, his career never fully recovered after this bomb.  Mission to Mars gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.