horror

“Alien: Covenant” Review

Alright.  I apologize for the lack of posts lately; the complete update to my situation will be out this week.  In the meantime, we have another unnecessary Alien movie to review!  Since I already gave out my opinions on Ridley Scott in my review of The Martian, I can get right into the meat of things.

Alien: Covenant is directed by Ridley Scott and written by: Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan, and Dante Harper.  Stars-Michael Fassbender, Kathrine Waterson, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride.  Premise-The startled crew of a colony spaceship en route to inhabit a new planet discover much more than they bargained for when a distress signal leads them to a different destination.

If you thought Prometheus was a disappointment, then hold on to your jaw, cause it’s about to drop right off!  Where do I even begin, well, how about the story?  The more complicated these movies get, the more I understand why the original film was so smart.  We’ve gone from “Killer alien in a claustrophobic ship with an unprepared crew” to “Why do humans exist?  Let’s travel out to deep space cuz Guy Pearce says so.  Oh, and there’s aliens.  Can’ forget that.”  Needless to say, I think the franchise has forgotten the “point.”  Either that or the scripts for Blade Runner 2049 and Alien: Covenant was switched.  If so, I can’t wait to see Sebastian from La La Land fight a Xenomorph.  Honestly, this movie is stuck so far up its own butt; I’m surprised it wasn’t written by the Wachowskis.

You’ll notice very quickly that Alien: Covenant forgoes terror and scares for a lot of sciency gibberish and *ahem* philosophy.  Basically, Billy Crudup will spout something Mr. Scott thinks is something Christians would say, and he is branded “insufferable” and constantly beaten down by the reality of science (aka, contrived screenwriting).  You’re not gonna believe this, but I just summed up the movie’s underlying theme in one sentence.  This wouldn’t be a problem if the movie was focused on scaring you rather than talking your ears off.  Now, I understand that (God-forbid) we should be getting more intelligent horror films nowadays, but Alien: Covenant is simply putting all of its eggs into the same flimsy basket.  A basket that promises classic thrills and plenty of terror, but is in fact, very, very empty. Well, except for one particular egg.

I’m sorry, that metaphor was way to Shyamalany.  What I’m getting at is that Michael Fassbender is awesome in this movie.  He was one of the best things about Prometheus, and they give him much more to work with.  Unfortunately, these characters are more asinine than the entirety of TLC programs.  Remember how there were only 8 characters with unique personalities, memorable traits, and interesting actors in the original?  Well, Alien: Covenant has 12+ forgettable, boring, obviously-exist-only-to-die characters.  Only McBride and Fassbender stand out because both actors have charisma.  If you thought those two guys from Prometheus were obvious horror pawns, then prepare to rage (or in my case, be bored-to-sleep) at how many characters show up, speak one expositional sentence, then die.  Not only is this formula tedious to sit through (since the pacing sucks), but it’s an amateur approach to filmmaking, not befitting of the legendary Ridley Scott.  Speaking of which, this movie treats its audience like morons.  Every teen-slasher cliché can be found here, the characters make pants-soilingly dumb decisions, and the “twist” is something you’ve seen in countless other sci-fi films.  Also, what they do to Shaw’s character from Prometheus is… well.  Remember what they did to “wrap up” Will Smith’s character in Independence Day: Resurgence?  Yeah, that’s how disrespectful it is.

It’s really a shame.  I can see the effort behind the movie in the cinematography, sets, Fassbender/McBride’s performances, and F/X, but there’s too much talking, the characters are idiots, and I can only remember being in suspense for 5 minutes in a 120 minute film.  As for Scott, either keep your deep philosophy in movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings and Blade Runner, or talk to me.  I’d love to tell you about a great guy named Jesus Christ.  Alien: Covenant gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

“Life” (2017) Review (SPOILERS)

*stammering in shock*  I… uh, how?  In the name of all things original and competent, HOW IS THIS MOVIE EVEN A THING?!  Alright, I need to slow down for a second; here’s the context.  I watched Power Rangers and I’ve already started the review on it.  For those aching for that review, the movie is essentially 50% crap, 50% cool stuff.   Then I watched Life in search of mindless enjoyment and nothing else.  Surely I can at least be entertained by modern Hollywood right?  Upon leaving the theater, I had more passionate anger than I did with the Ghostbusters remake.  Before we get into the criticism, I’m warning you, there will be a lot of rage in this review, and I’m NOT going to apologize for it.  The incompetence of this movie is inexcusable!  Ok, here we go.

Life is directed by Daniel Espinosa and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.  Stars-Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ryan Reynolds, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare.  Premise-After discovering an intelligent, sentient organism in Mars samples, a crew of astronauts/scientists conduct various tests to see if it responds.  When it turns out to be a hostile, rapidly evolving creature, it becomes a game of cat-and-mouse on the spaceship as the crew fights for their lives.

The opening scene shows promise; displaying some decent (but average by the standards set by Gravity, Interstellar, and Rogue One) F/X.  One Brian De Palma-style tracking shot later and our sci-fi clichéachers (i.e. clichéd characters) have been introduced.  The aloof one (Gyllenhaal), the protocol controlling leader (Ferguson), the scientist who treats the alien like his child (Bakare), the joke-maker who’ll die first (Reynolds), the Asian who speaks in technobabble (Sanada), and the other one you completely forgot about (Dihovichnaya).  Your first thought is probably, “Well, the ensemble cast is probably great.”  No.  What he have is a wasted ensemble cast.  I am so sick of the mindset that a great cast can save a movie and/or terrible writing.  Should not the actors be chosen on the basis of how well they can play a specific character as opposed to, “Hey, let’s cast Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal.  They practically add 50 brownie points to any movie they’re in.”  I am 100% sure that, if this movie didn’t have such great thespians, critics would call it, “A generic genre flick whose decent visuals cannot overcome predictable plotting and stolen ideas.”  Oh, we’ve just begun the brutal spanking of this movie.  Let’s get into the story.

In essence, these guys have come across a living cell in Mars samples gathered by robotic scouts.  They nurse the organism back to consciousness (using various sciency things) and all seems well.  They even broadcast an update to Earth, where a randomly selected elementary school decides to name it “Calvin.”  Soon after, things begin to go wrong.  From there, the rest of the movie is; character dies brutally, Calvin disappears, coming up with a plan, plan goes wrong, character dies brutally.  Rinse and repeat.  In between that, we get to enjoy a cliché sandwich topped with idiocy and a side order of plagiarism.

Remember how the crew in Alien was mostly miners/explores?  It made sense that they would not be outfitted for (or expecting) an alien attack.  You could fell the pure terror and confusion.  In Life, some the best minds (as represented by our ethnically/nationally diverse cast) on Earth are up there.  Yet, they find it in themselves to make EVERY DUMB DECISION IN SCI-FI HORROR HISTORY!  It’s pointless to list them off because you, the casual reader, have already guessed some of them in your head.  I don’t care how much stress you’re under, anyone with half a brain knows not to: split up, try to save someone beyond saving, or go into the room with the murderous alien monster!!!   With the exception of the scientist guy, every character that dies does so by sacrificing themselves.  This is one of the many things the filmmakers don’t understand, a sacrifice needs to be built up and done only once.  When every freaking person is doing it, the impact is lost.  It doesn’t help that the pacing is far too slow for this bare-bones plot.

I mentioned Alien earlier, but not the fact that this movie is a rip-off.  Some critics defend Life by saying that it took inspiration from Alien as opposed to directly ripping it off.  Actually, that is only our nostalgic minds that tell us every horror movie in space is automatically a rip-off of Alien.  I don’t think anyone else has pointed this out; Life is a rip off of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).  From discovering an alien that was trapped in the ground of a planet, to said alien being extremely difficult to find/kill, to the secondary conflict being “We cannot let this thing get to the rest of humanity.”  Nice try director of frickin Safe House, I noticed the uncanny similarities, and I don’t tolerate them.  Speaking of The Thing (one of the best horror movies in history), that movie worked because the alien had a weakness, and the characters didn’t give it a non-terrifying name.  Throughout the bloated runtime of Life, the characters keep reminding the audience that Calvin is near-indestructible and keeps evolving (minus points for treating the audience like idiots).

Now we arrive at the last third, and this is where I decided to review it over Power Rangers.  Throughout the film, I was waiting for that scene in most horror survivors where the characters come together and formulate a plan to kill the monster.  Obviously, Calvin cannot be killed with fire, or the emptiness of space, so it looks like it’s going to be a battle of wits (which would have been an excellent way to take the narrative).  After all, the characters told us that Calvin is intelligent at least 20 times.  For whatever reason, it takes until the last two survivors to come up with a clever trap.  Yeah, yeah, they had a few attempts before the climax, but the only plan that actually has a chance of working is the one made by Gyllenhaal (let’s be honest, you only see the actor, nor the character).  He and Ferguson are the only two left, the ship is running low on oxygen, and Calvin is still around.  Gyllenhaal then tells Ferguson that he will lure Calvin to escape pod A with oxygen flares (Calvin requires oxygen) where he will trap Calvin inside with him, jettison the pod, and manually fly it away from Earth.  Ferguson will take escape pod B and attempt re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.  Unfortunately, their pods fly off course.  Ferguson’s pod malfunctions and she flies off into deep space, and Gyllenhaal lands on Earth with Calvin who appears to be creating a nest inside the pod.  Ferguson screams, and Gyllenhaal shouts “No!”  as a wide shot shows us some fishermen boats coming towards the pod accompanied by Jon Ekstrand’s (taking lessons from the Mica Levi school of long chords) loud score.  Cut to black, and we’re treated to the song “Spirit in the Sky” (can we stop using this dang song in movies?).

Alright, where do I freaking start?  To start, of all the things that go wrong, the pods hit random debris as they fly.  Earlier, another ship collided with their vessel, and the result was some debris being sent into space.  However, the exact moment when the pods hit the debris is far too coincidental, especially since the rest of their flight had no issues whatsoever.  But what really gets me is the ending.  From the get-go, I knew this wasn’t going to have a happy ending (again, Life is very clichéd), but this screenplay is so bad, my dad (who saw it with me) came up with a better ending.  “What if Gyllenhaal wanted to take the alien to Earth?”  Think about it!  From the start of the movie, we know he doesn’t like other people.  He’s about to set a record for most days in orbit, and he has taken on more radiation than the human body can handle (implying that he will die soon).  In addition, some of his last words to Ferguson are “I belong up here.  You think I want to go back down to those 8 billion mother***ers?”  Heck, he dislikes humanity because of war, mistreatment, and overpopulation.  Bringing the alien to Earth could have been his way of “cleansing” it and starting anew.  Not only is that a ballsy, jaw-dropping twist, it would have eliminated the debris plothole (instead, he would have pushed Ferguson out into space as re-entered the atmosphere), and his character would have been much more interesting.  If done properly, the audience would have never seen it coming!  Ugh!  Such wasted potential!

*listens to Hans Zimmer’s S.T.A.Y. and cools down*  Alright, to be fair, I may be demanding perfection from a movie that, for better or worse, is basic entertainment.  This is a problem of mine; I don’t classify many movies as average (which is the reality) and instead go for the extremes.  Despite this, I want to believe that we are beyond the action nonsense of the 90s and the space obsession of the 70s.  We are now in a much more story-driven era where audiences have matured and expectations are higher.  This is why I hate the term “popcorn flick” it’s an excuse for a movie to be dumb so long as it doesn’t offend you or be too serious.  Life doesn’t know if it wants to be mindless fun, or dramatic sci-fi.  Because of this, I cannot enjoy it.  The writing isn’t intelligent enough to be moving, and the horror elements are stolen.  Even the one thing that could have given the film an identity of its own, the aforementioned twist, wasn’t there.  My Power Rangers review will be out on Thursday, but for now, Life gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.

My Thoughts On: “Get Out”

Well, this one’s been a long time coming.  I don’t think anyone lost sleep over my lack of a review, so let’s skip the apology and get right down to it.

The marketing for this movie was bloody brilliant!  I could never tell if it was pure horror, satirical comedy, or both.  They interest you without spoiling anything, and it sets the tone perfectly.  Honestly, the trailers are some of the best in modern cinema, and the film itself doesn’t disappoint, even if there are a few issues.

What I don’t like boils down to two minor problems, but have a great impact on the movie as a whole.  First, the pacing.  Get Out is not a traditional horror film; it is a slow-building, suspenseful mystery with excellent attention to character.  However, there are a few scenes that drag on, and the runtime should have been cut down a bit.  Secondly, the commentary.  I’m getting tired of seeing “thought-provoking” in Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus sections.  It’s an easy way to say, “this movie talked about racial issues” no context necessary.  In reality, the “commentary” in this movie is pretty obvious (some of the dialogue spells out what the message is).  Get Out is at its best when it is subverting clichés and being unpredictable.

Despite my overly analytical mind’s efforts to predict what would happen next, I was never right.  The only predictable thing about this movie is that you know something is wrong, but the incredible storytelling keeps you guessing in dreadful anticipation.  The humor is just as competent.  Unlike in Keanu (also written by Jordan Peele), the jokes vary in setup and punchline.  You’ll be cringing in one scene, laughing in the next (the supporting cast is stellar!), and then you’ll be shocked by what the first two scenes built up to.  Trust me, this is one satisfying movie!

This is hard to say, but Get Out is better than The Visit, one of my favorite movies of 2015.  Both films are horror/comedies about someone going to see family in a very suspicious setting.  Not only is the script very spontaneous, but the humor is much better as well.  Basically, this movie deserves 90% of the overwhelmingly positive response it has received.  Allow me to add to that response by giving it Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

“A Cure for Wellness” Review

Oh boy, it’s time to talk about arthouse films.  Since I never got around to reviewing The Lobster or Swiss Army Man, it looks like A Cure for Wellness is going to be the first “different” movie that I’ve reviewed.  This movie is definitely one of my most anticipated releases of 2017, and a film from Gore Verbinski is almost always a treat.  Let’s get to it.

A Cure for Wellness is directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe and Gore Verbinski.  Stars-Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, and Harry Groener.   Premise-An American businessman (DeHaan) is sent to the Swiss Alps to find his CEO (Groener) who left suddenly after leaving a note stating that he was looking “for the cure,” that can only be found at a mysterious facility in the mountains.

Mr. Verbinski has established himself to be a versatile director.  From unique comedies like Mousehunt and The Weather Man, to the terrifying Ringu remake (The Ring), to the incredibly successful Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, to the Best Animated Feature-winning Rango; his films have left their mark on cinema.  However, one of his biggest criticisms is making movies that think they’re “bigger” than they actually are.  For example, the Pirates sequels tried to be grandiose and stupendous, even though audiences love the first because of its lighthearted action.  Another would be Rango, which was filled with morals and social commentary (although I think the story is sublime) despite being an animated Disney film.  Try as I have to counteract that argument, it has never been more prevalent than with A Cure for Wellness, that cannot (for the life of itself), figure out what it wants to say.  I opened by mentioning arthouse films because this movie makes the tiresome trek across that genre’s many possibilities and somehow came out with incoherence and pretention.

The very first thing I have to acknowledge is the style of this film.  It looks spectacular.  Verbinski has a great eye for framing a shot (check out Mousehunt for some really cool camerawork).  A Cure for Wellness is a picturesque film, and you can see some of this beauty on the official website.  The set design and color-correction give it a very eerie tone, one that effectively brings chills at times.  The score is equally entrancing, adding atmosphere at very precise moments.  On a visual level, it can’t be beat, but that is sadly the most impressive thing about A Cure for Wellness.

The movie actually starts out pretty strong.  We get some intriguing visual foreshadowing and insightful social commentary (the only commentary in the movie that makes sense).  You’ll quickly realize that A Cure for Wellness decides to spend most of its time getting high rather than making sense.  After some exposition (including DeHaan’s character motivation), he makes the trip to the treatment center.  The first act does a great job of creeping you out while setting up the rest of the story.  But you’ll quickly realize that the movie is a downward spiral after the “car scene.”  The pacing is slower than a Smart Fortwo, and instead of explaining what is going on, Verbinski decides to show you his “artistic vision.”  Yes, the movie looks incredible, but it (being a pretentious arthouse film) throws a bunch of disturbing/confusing imagery at you.  Some of these visuals are creative, and some will wreck your suspension of disbelief.  While I’m at it, let’s talk about the torture scenes!  Remember that disgusting “turkey baster” thing in Don’t Breathe?  Imagine four of those scenes in one movie, which go on for five minutes each, are even nastier, and go all the way with their detail.  I overacted with my reaction to Don’t Breathe; after all, they didn’t go all the way with what was going to happen.  I can name at least two movies (The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film) that are more shocking than A Cure for Wellness.  That said, there are numerous things in this movie that will trigger many.  Animal abuse, extensive gore, and lots of naked old people.  My philosophy is, “If it has a point, go for it.”  Most of the disturbing imagery we see after the boring first half is unexplained and has little story impact.  I’d like there to be a reason behind making me vomit.

The actual narrative is even less impressive by comparison.  There are a whole lot of genre clichés (you could see half of them in the trailers), the continuity is abysmal, and I left the theater asking, “What the heck was the point of all that?”  Usually, you can tell that an artsy-fartsy movie wants to say something.  In the case of A Cure for Wellness, I have no idea what they were going for.  The actors (especially DeHaan) are trying their best, but the script is harder to decipher than The Da Vinci Code!  This brings me to my last point; A Cure for Wellness would make an excellent videogame.  I mean it.  A first-person horror survival set in a mysterious health facility with a dark past.  The philosophy, odd characters, and brutality would work better in a game than a 150 minute film.   Imagine Outlast combined with Silent Hill; now that would be awesome!

I will say that I’m glad this movie was made, for all of its mistakes; more “different” films need to be mass released.  Despite all of its flaws, there is a thought-provoking psychological thriller hidden in the shadows.  The movie already has a Lilliputian cult following, and inspiration is much more powerful than entertainment, which the movie failed to provide.  A Cure for Wellness gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

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: “Dressed to Kill” (FINALE)

The purpose of this series was for me to analyze the movies of one of the most influential directors of the New Hollywood Generation (which Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and John Carpenter are also a part of), and for you to enjoy my findings.  What sparked this idea was Dressed to Kill, an erotic thriller that delivers a disturbingly tense experience.  I watched this movie on Christmas Day on a whim.  I had my bowl of Chinese chicken wings, relaxed into the plush chair, and hit “Play.”  What followed was some of the best filmmaking I have ever come across in an independent production.  The Untouchables might be my favorite movie from him, Mission: Impossible might be his highest-grossing picture, and Scarface (1983) might be his most iconic work, but I firmly believe Dressed to Kill is the best thing in his resume.   I’ve been aching to write this since I reviewed Snake Eyes, so let’s get ‘er goin’!

Dressed to Kill is written and directed by Brian De Palma.  Stars-Michael Caine, Nancy Allen, Angie Dickson, Keith Gordon, and Dennis Franz.  Premise-A call girl (Allen) is hunted by a mysterious blond woman after watching her murder a patient of psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliot (Caine).  Quick Disclaimer: I can’t go into too much detail because this screenplay is a mystery that could easily be spoiled.

When people think “Brian De Palma,” Dressed to Kill is one of the first responses they get.  No other movie from him is as stylistically pleasing, violent, or as tense as Dressed to Kill.  In fact, this extraordinary example of visual storytelling is in the Criterion Collection (one of three De Palma films to do this).

Don’t let those undeserved Razzie nominations (Worst Director, Worst Actor-Caine, and Worst Actress-Allen) give you the wrong impression of this film.  Dressed to Kill is a wild ride with no way off, and the actors are fully committed to their characters.  Michael Caine is excellent as Dr. Elliot.  He has to figure out why his patient was murdered and still remains intriguingly professional (as the movie goes on, he gets much better), Angie Dickson (playing a sexually frustrated housewife/mother) is incredibly authentic, and Allen (who was De Palma’s wife at the time) is a very likable protagonist.  There are scenes where she is being harassed, chased, interrogated, and psychologically examined.  She works well in pretty much every scenario (even the one where she has to seduce someone).  The supporting cast is just as entertaining (Keith Gordon’s career was greatly helped by this movie); Dennis Franz somehow made the “disbelieving cop with a Chicagoan accent” funny.

One of the biggest complaints naysayers of this particular director bring up is his use of brutal violence.  Advocates of the former should refer to this enlightening video.  I cannot stress how stylistically intense this movie is.  It does bare more than one resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (of which Brian De Palma was greatly inspired), and that could have easily resulted in a cheap rip-off.  The writing of Dressed to Kill not only knows what was effective, but why it was effective.  Through a combination of De Palma’s signature split-screens, tracking shots, and Dutch angles, a chilling score from Pino Donaggio (which rivals that of Ennio Morricone’s The Thing soundtrack), and thrilling sequences (most notably the subway chase and museum scene) make Dressed to Kill practically a spiritual successor to the works of Hitchcock.  This movie is never boring.  The mystery has many layers to it and the character interactions can leave you more informed or more confused.  Either way, the psychological terror is palpable.  I had other plans that night, but I could not take my eyes off the screen, I simply had to see what would happen.

My issues with the movie are extremely few.  There is a dream sequence (a la Carrie) that was unnecessary, but it was cool to watch so I’ll give it a pass.  Also, there is a twist of sorts.  Some people can probably predict it, but you’re talking to the guy who couldn’t guess the twist of The Visit or The Village, so take it how you will.  Dressed to Kill is an experience.  It is nothing more than a stylish thriller, but it does its job so dang well.

If you have taken anything from this little series of mine, it’s that I thoroughly love this artist’s work and I have a great amount of respect for what he has accomplished.  Yes, he made bad movies (any director who’s been working for over 50 years would), but those mistakes are overshadowed by a mountain of entertaining, influential, suspenseful, star-powered, iconic pieces of cinema.  There were so many other fine options I had for this series: the powerfully acted Carlito’s Way, the “filmmaker’s film” Blow Out, the dramatic Casualties of War, De Palma’s breakout film Sisters, and so many more.  When asked in an interview if he was proud of his career, De Palma replied, “To be in my age and to be still making movies, absolutely.”  Dressed to Kill gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

De Palma, if you are reading this, thank you so much for reshaping the industry, and inspiring this lover of film.

Brian De Palma Month: “Carrie” (1976)

It’s Brian De Palma Month; of course I have to talk about one of his most well-received horror films.  De Palma struck gold when he chose to adapt this Stephen King story.  It was the first Oscar-nominated Stephen King adaptation, it started the career of Sissy Spacek, and it made over $33 million (on a budget of less than $2 million).  The movie is known by many as one of the scariest horror classics of all time; let’s figure out why.

Carrie (1976) is directed by Brian De Palma and written by Lawrence D. Cohen.  Stars-Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, John Travolta, Amy Irving, and Betty Buckley.  Premise-Socially inept Carrie White leads a tormented life.  She can unexplainably move things with her telekinetic mind, her religious zealot mother (Laurie) believes that everything Carrie does is a sin, the girls at high school bully her, and she is experiencing menstruation for the first time.  When a sick prank is pulled on her in a moment of ecstasy, Carrie will finally snap.

Stephen King novels have been adapted by so many excellent filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick, Frank Darabont, Rob Reiner, John Carpenter, etc.  I was quite excited to see De Palma’s style combined with King’s writing.  I have to say, the style of this movie is worth the 100 minutes.  The director has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock (who is actually a great inspiration to De Palma) in terms of how he creates suspense.  You can see the influence in Carrie.  The use of split screens, slow-motion, a terrific 360-degree spin shot, the quick editing, the amazing zoom-ins, and intensity is pure Hitchcockian inspiration.  The last third of this movie oozes with atmosphere and terror.

Bringing these characters to life is an ensemble cast.  The Oscar nominations were for Sissy Spacek (leading actress) and Piper Laurie (supporting actress).  The rest of the cast ranges from decent to below-average (ensemble ≠ well-utilized mind you), but Spacek and Laurie thoroughly become their characters.  Some would see their performances as over-the-top, but they have to read off of Stephen King dialogue, so cut them some slack.  Any time they share the screen is brutal to watch since Laurie’s character believes her daughter is possessed.  Safe to say, those nominations were well-deserved.

While I would have preferred there to be no problems with this movie, that is not reality.  For one, this movie is kinda dated.  The costumes, quality of the cameras, soundtrack, and slang are really cheesy.  I can forgive this, but the major problems lie in the screenplay (like the copious amount of filler).  I have not read the book, but I can definitely tell you that this movie reeks of Stephen King clichés.  Before you release the wrath of the langoliers on me, I’ll say that Stephen King is a good writer (no duh) with mountains of experience, and even more influence.  However, that does not mean he cannot repeat himself or make mistakes.  Each of the characters (except for Buckley’s PE teacher) is a trope.  Carrie herself barely has any character besides “social outcast with telekinesis,” which the movie “remedies” by beating her down.  Like, reeeeeeeaaaaaaallllyyy down (there is a lot of abuse in this movie).  I give credit to De Palma (for going all the way) and the devotion of Spacek and Laurie, but instead of wanting Carrie to get revenge, I felt extremely depressed.  We don’t get any reason to like her, she just gets beat up.  The beatings come from Nancy Allen’s one-dimensional bully, or her religious nut mother.

When it comes to Mrs. White (again, religious nut), I found myself quite annoyed.  At some point, it gets exhausting seeing this same cliché in Stephen King adaptations (i.e., Marcia Gay Harden in The Mist, the salesman in Maximum Overdrive, Annie Wilkes in Misery, etc.).  We do get some backstory of Mrs. White, but that is very close to the end of the movie.  If she had more development early on, it would have made a much stronger character.

Is this movie one of the best Stephen King adaptations?  Eh, maybe.  What I can tell you is that it’s not an in-depth look at teenagers and religious nonsense (which most critics like it for).  Movies like The Breakfast Club and The Exorcist are better looks at society and religion.  Whenever Carrie is brought up in a YouTube video, they almost always show the prom scene clip, because the first two thirds is mostly exposition.  That said this movie is iconic because of how unsettling, brutal, and terrifying it gets at points, and you can chalk that up to Brain De Palma’s talents.  Carrie (1976) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

P.S.  Sorry again for the late posting.  After watching Split (which you should watch), I kinda forgot about this review.  I will be doing something special for Split, which should be posted within the week.  Also, I have finished the Top Ten Worst 2016 Movies, and I’m currently working on the Top Ten Best 2016 Movies, those will be up next week.  Thank you.

“Frailty” Review

In 2002, Bill Paxton released his directorial feature to the masses.  What audiences got out of the film was not at all what they expected going in.  Of all the actor-to-director stories that have happened (Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Ron Howard, Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, and soooooooo many more), Bill Paxton’s Frailty is one of the best directorial debuts from an actor that I have ever seen.  Since it’s the month of Halloween (that iconic holiday based off of witchcraft and devil worship), and horror is my favorite genre, I think a horror review is in order.  Don’t blame me for the lack of horror reviews this month, for some reason Hollywood dropped the ball and forgot to exploit use the opportunity to release some scary movies.  For the record, I didn’t see Ouija 2 because the first movie destroyed any interest I had in the franchise.

Frailty is directed by Bill Paxton and written by Brent Hanley.  Stars-Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, and Jeremy Sumpter.  Premise-A father (Paxton) explains to his sons that God has (supposedly) revealed their divine purpose, to hunt down and destroy hidden demons.  Years later, one of the sons (McConaughey) confesses to an FBI agent (Boothe) that his brother is a serial murderer the agent has been hunting for.

The many subjects that Frailty juggles is staggering, but the really impressive thing is how well the movie is made.  The script, the cinematography, the acting, the religious themes, the horror, everything is just… brilliant!  I guess we should start with the basics, because the story is going to take quite a while to cover.

I have to admit, I’m disappointed that Paxton didn’t go on to direct more movies because his understanding of the art form is flabbergasting (yes, that is a word)!  The use of lighting and shadows in this movie rivals that of some of the best noir films of all time, the pacing is suspenseful and transitions fluently, and the performances are authentic.  People say McConaughey doesn’t have any talent, but those people clearly haven’t seen Amistad, A Time to Kill, or Frailty.  He narrates some of the story through (very well-utilized) flashbacks and every second he is on screen, you are trying to figure out “what’s up with him.”  His performance is very reserved and calm so you can’t tell what he’s going to do.  The rest of the cast is great as well.  Sumpter gives one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen in a horror film, and Paxton’s likability feels genuine since he plays a single father who believes that he has been given a monumental task from his Lord.

Before I get into the story, I need to make this very clear; Frailty is a religious movie.  No, not the Miracles from Heaven or God’s Not Dead kind.  This movie is a psychological horror that uses religious themes as building blocks to support the story, not as a preachy message.  This is the type of movie that many people (most of them immature) would instantly call preachy or pretentious without even watching the whole thing.  Here is what Paxton and his sons are supposedly assigned; they must hunt down and destroy (not kill) demons.  They are given 3 weapons (one is an axe), and a list of “human beings” to find.  Most of the tension in the movie comes from the uncertainty.  Are these people humans or demons in disguise?  Trust me, the movie does an excellent job of keeping you (and the characters in the movie) guessing.

There is also an honorable amount of relatable drama in this horror.  Much like The Visit, there is an emotional connection between the characters and the audience because the characters are just as confused as we are.  Sumpter plays one of the sons, and he is the skeptic of the movie.  He doesn’t believe his father, and they grow apart spiritually, emotionally, and convincingly.  You’ll find yourself caring for these characters, which is a crucial step that is often forgotten in horror movies.

Frailty has 2 twists, the first becomes more predictable as the movie goes on, but the second twist is a doozy!  The movie pulls a Rashomon on you since you can’t be entirely certain that the perspective of the story is correct.  Since I really want you to watch this movie, I won’t spoil it, but just know that the horror of the second twist is devastatingly effective and very thought-provoking.

By no means was this movie a flop, it grossed $17 million (on an $11 million budget), and received a 4/4 from Roger Ebert himself.  However, it was released in the same year as Spider-Man, Scooby-Doo, Ice Age, and Attack of the Clones (all very goofy), and Insomnia, Red Dragon, Signs, and The Ring (much more popular horror movies).  Then there is the religious aspect, to which some people have made very “tasteful” jokes involving 9/11 and God telling people to murder others.  I’ll say it again, Frailty does not push an agenda, it tells its original story and doesn’t hold back for the sake of not offending anyone.  Heck, there is very little blood or gore.  Even if you don’t agree with the themes, you can still be disturbed by Paxton’s excellent direction and some terrifying suspense.  Frailty gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

Triple Feature

First of all, if you are into your school year and still make time to read my reviews, you are a terrifically nice person.  Studies show that if you read my intellectual reviews on a weekly basis, your brain is guaranteed to increase in thought processing speed after the first month.  At least that is what TMZ told me.  In all seriousness, I have a great amount of respect for people who think much more than the average Happy Madison audience member.  That is why I don’t easily tolerate stupidity in movies, and why I want thinking people as my audience; or people who just love to laugh.  Anyway, today we have a triple feature, hooray!  2016 has been such a bland year.  It feels like everything I review is the same thing.  But the movies I am looking over today are extremely different and more than worthy of talking about.  Enough talk, let’s review!

 

Jason Bourne

The Bourne Identity is an excellently executed thriller which made quite an impact.  The Bourne Supremacy is decent, but a step down due to its less than detailed direction.  The Bourne Ultimatum however, is the best of all four films.  The story is fast-paced, the acting is intense, the cinematography is sleek, and the tone is action-packed.  When I hear the term, “non-stop thrill ride” The Bourne Ultimatum is what comes to mind.  Since all the Bourne films have eerily similar stories, something has to be done differently in each film.  Jason Bourne sadly forgot that crucial detail, at best; all they did was change the title.

The biggest problem with Jason Bourne is the bland, plothole-filled, unfocused, confusing, repetitive, and predicable story.  I really want to see a parody of these films titled, The Bourne Formula.  Every dang Bourne movie is essential this: Jason Bourne trying to learn about his past, a CIA director who’s hiding something trying to kill him, an assassin asset with no character hunting for Bourne, and a token female character who’s skeptical of Jason at first, but helps him anyway.  Oh yeah, and each film is concluded with Moby’s perfectly fitting (but overdone) song, “Extreme Ways.”  Jason Bourne does have some fine acting and a few tense action scenes, but those positives are expected from a Bourne movie; except The Bourne Legacy which is just awful.  When you get right down to it, I remember Identity and Ultimatum because they were the most competently made of the quadrilogy.  What happened in Supremacy, Legacy or Jason Bourne?  I honestly don’t remember, and I watched all four of these movies in the last two months.  By the way, in addition to shaky cam, we get some extremely distracting close-ups.  Betcha didn’t expect to see every nose hair on Matt Damon, or every wrinkle on Tommy Lee Jones’ face.  Jason Bourne gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

 

Don’t Breathe

Here is yet another indie film that made its way to the masses because audiences (including myself) are desperate for something different.  If you look at that subculture of film (which might as well be its own genre in 2016), you will find Hell or High Water (a modern western), The Lobster (a romantic, artsy, drama), and Swiss Army Man (an oddball comedy with a romantic twist).  Since horror is my favorite genre, this type of film should make me sequel with glee.  However, considering that I am a film critic, the many, many issues of this movie get in the way.  Admittedly, the performances are authentic, the camerawork is very active and detailed, the use of sound is creative, and it delivers the scares.  However, in the midst of everyone saying that this is the best horror movie of the year (for the record, The Conjuring 2 is the best), no one is talking about the glaring issues with the movie.  These problems are reoccurring.  For one, characters never die.  Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t survive the amount of damage people take in this movie!  It got to the point of completely breaking my suspension of disbelief, which is not something you want if your film is supposed to be a claustrophobic thriller inside a creepy house down the road.  In addition, Mr. Stephen Lang’s blind superpowers are very inconsistent.  Sometimes he can hear everything, and sometimes when someone walks right past him, he won’t notice it.  The movie largely focuses on his sense of hearing, not a bad idea but if the film utilized his senses of touch and smell, there would be a few less plotholes, and a shorter running time.  Take that clip in the trailer when he walks past one of the robbers.  He should have felt the air left by the kid against him, especially since he is wearing a tank top.  This inconsistency (along with the invincible characters) gets very distracting after a while.

Speaking of characters, this movie is filled with unlikeable characters.  Here is the best way I can describe it.  It feels like the script is trying to make everyone sympathetic and unlikable at the same time.  I guess you could count the girl as the one person you want to live, but even then her motivation is as clichéd as all heck.  No matter what type of horror film you are making, there must be a compelling protagonist of some type.  Would you give a crap about the psychological battles in The Silence of the Lambs if Clarice Starling wasn’t as dedicated or clever?  Would Halloween (1978) be as suspenseful if it didn’t have Dr. Loomis’ dialogue or Laurie Strode’s charming likability?  Would you have enjoyed From Dusk Till Dawn if the antiheros were not as entertainingly despicable?

The last thing I need to bring up is the scene that completely lost me.  I’m not going into great detail because describing what I saw will make me nauseous.  If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what I’m talking about.  The scene takes place at about the beginning of the third act.  Essentially, this scene is a rape/torture scene.  Not on the level of A Clockwork Orange, but the gruesome detail this scene has is disgusting.  Bear in mind, you’re talking to a guy who ranted about the animated buttholes in The Secret Life of Pets; some people will not be as disgusted with this scene as I was.  Even so, the real reason why I don’t like this scene is because it serves no real purpose.  The scene is cut short, and the gruesome detail of it is entirely unnecessary (almost as if it was the director’s fetish or something).  Unlike in a Kubrick film like A Clockwork Orange, there is no artistic purpose to the scene, and considering the rest of the film isn’t that violent, it feels out of place.   Don’t Breathe is worth a watch, but not much thought, and it gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B-.

 

Hell or High Water

Man if this year don’t get better, Hell or High Water is probably going to be the best film of 2016.  Brought to you by Taylor Sheridan (writer of Sicario), Hell or High Water is an exceptionally well-acted, character-focused, intelligent, perfectly shot, modern western.  There is nothing about this film that I don’t like.  The cinematography is excellent, the sound editing is fitting, and the action scenes are tense.  By far the best thing about this movie is the screenplay.  Sheridan, this is some of the finest work I have seen from an upcoming writer.  Heck, this movie should win Best Original Screenplay.  Hell or High Water has such an emphasis on character development and commentary that makes you weep for the rest of modern cinema.  This is one of the best films of the decade, and it doesn’t need to rely on megastars or an epic setting to get people interested.  As much as I like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Raid, and The Revenant (great movies that they are), they do lack a bit in the character department.  My movie heart will always belong to the films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Spotlight, Inception, The Imitation Game, Sorcerer, Stand by Me, and Toy Story that focus on the script and characters first.

The dialog in Hell or High Water is about as natural as you can get.  None of the actors ever look like they’re reading off of something, or were directed to be extra dramatic when something groundbreaking is said.  Each actor (especially Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster) is thoroughly convincing, and the characters they become have very distinguishable personalities and backgrounds.  If you thought the setting of this movie would be hard to embrace, fear not.  Not since Southside with You has a movie done such a stellar job of creating atmosphere.  The movie takes place in west Texas, the actors have the right accents, the wind is always blowing, and the soundtrack is filled with musical relics.  Hell or High Water is one of the best movies of 2016 (top 5 even) and it gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

There you have it, my first multiple review.  Sorry about the lateness of this post, but school just started, and I had to cut back.  Here’s to hoping that you enjoyed this thing, and that 2016 (for the love of Jehoshaphat) steps up its game.  In the meantime, if you want to see more of my content, check out my Twitter page (which I am always using).