sci fi

“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-.

“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.

“Ghost in the Shell” (2017) Review

Originally, I was going to review The Boss Baby, but Murphy’s law wrecked my plans so here we are.  While this movie has been reviewed by freaking everybody, I think my point of view will provide a differing opinion to those who are familiar with the source material.  That’s right; I have not read or watched any of the original Ghost in the Shell manga (or anime, whatever).  That means I went into this movie with absolutely no idea what to expect (aside from the first teaser trailer).  Upon leaving the theater, this was my thought: “That was decent.”

Ghost in the Shell is directed by Rupert Sanders and written by: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger.  Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Peter Ferdinando, and Juliette Binoche.  Premise-After an accident, a woman’s brain is placed into a cybernetic body for the use of hunting down criminals.

Not to get ahead from myself, but this movie can be summed up as “an above-average action sci-fi flick.”  The manga may or may not be better than the film, but the general consensus does not like the live-action movie.  As we leaned with the Inferno movie, adaptations should be good in their own right.  Competent storytelling, compelling characters, and excellent visuals are not something that should not be difficult to recreate.  Luckily, GITS has the visual aspect in droves.  The costumes, designs, and color pallet are very interesting.  Stylization this intense is hard to come by nowadays, so I appreciate how they visualized the manga for the silver screen.  What’s even more impressive are the action sequences.  Slow-motion “bullet time” allows the impeccable F/X to impress, even in 2D.  To accompany every scene, we have one of the best movie scores of the 2010s.  If you love Vangelis’ Blade Runner music, Tangerine Dream, or electronica, then you will probably nerdgasm over this Lorne Balfe/Clint Mansell score.  I’m not even going to attempt to tell you how excellent it is, just watch the film (or buy the soundtrack when it’s released).

Despite the technical achievements, the problems of this movie lie entirely in the screenplay.  I don’t know (or care) how faithful it is to the manga, but it’s without a doubt, very clichéd.  We have: a bad guy who bears a shocking resemblance to Amon from The Legend of Korra, corrupted corporate officials, framed police officers, and a whole lot of copy-pasted “robotic sci-fi” genre clichés (like the scene where they wonder what it’s like to feel human).  There are a few scenes that should have been cut, the climax is not as big as it should be, and the symbolism is painfully obvious (what do you know, an American action film with all the subtly of a middle finger to the audience).

The actors are not much better.  Only the great Takeshi Kitano stands out because he takes command of every scene.  Sure, Johansson (btw, they do explain why she’s not Asian) looks pretty, but that does not translate to good acting.  Admittedly, she is mostly robotic, so I don’t expect Viola Davis levels of passion, but something other than “blank stare” would be nice.

There you are, one short and sweet review.  Despite the annoying faults, the entertainment value is pretty high.  There are enough interesting ideas and likable characters to turn this into a franchise.  After all, isn’t that what they wanted to do with it in the first place?  Ghost in the Shell (2017) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B-.

“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+.

“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.

“Monster Trucks” Review

I expected 2 things from this movie: either a surprisingly heartwarming adventure film, or a stupidly-entertaining, cheesy, clichéd mess.  I got the latter.

Monster Trucks is directed by Chris Wedge and written by: Derek Connelly, Matthew Robinson, Jonathan Aibel, and Glenn Berger.  Stars-Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe, and Danny Glover.  Premise-While drilling for oil, a company unearths subterranean creatures with strange abilities.  One of them escapes to a junkyard manned by Tripp (Till), a down on his luck engineer who yearns for a life outside of his dull hometown.  When he discovers the monster, they quickly become friends, and Tripp modifies his custom built truck to house the creature.  But the corporation does not want any knowledge of these monsters to reach the public, so they hunt down Tripp’s new friend.

Did that sound like an incomprehensible (if not familiar) premise?  That’s because Monster Trucks is one of the ridiculously clichéd movies I have ever seen!  I left the theater shocked in disbelief of what I just watched.  Time to rip apart a once-respected director’s disasterpiece.

This film was produced by Nickelodeon Movies (whose production credits include Good Burger, Rugrats Go Wild, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Barnyard, and The Last Airbender), and loosely based off of the toys and famous trucks.  I say loosely because there is little to no connection to the actual monster truck toys or the real thing.  At best, we get a 3 second clip of Grave Digger (I think) on a box TV, but that’s it.  Instead, ugh, we get actual monster trucks.  One of the reasons I saw this trash was because of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.  These guys have turned stupid premises into great movies before (the Kung Fu Panda trilogy).  Heck, they wrote Trolls, another toy-based cash grab, and even though it was a bad film, the amount of lore and attempts at charm were decent.  I cannot believe how lazy the writing and direction is, so I guess we’ll just have to go over why.

Within the first 10 minutes, you know the movie is going to be a predictable mess.  Our first encounter with the main protagonist tells you he is your average, generic, pretty tennager who wants to leave his crummy little hometown (has this cliché seriously been around since the 40s?).  He has a bland, loving mother (Amy Ryan), and a stepfather (Pepper) he doesn’t get along with (reason-nonexistent).  Tripp is an outcast at high school, but finds solace in working at a junkyard, where his boss Danny Glover (who cares what the character’s name is) will occasionally give Tripp car parts so he can build his own truck.  We then cut to a generic oil company run by a generic, evil, rich white guy (Lowe) who doesn’t care about environmental risks.  After discovering possible sub aquatic life where they are drilling, Lowe demands that they continue.  Predictably, they unearth 3 creatures, and capture 2 while the third escapes.

If you couldn’t tell, everything about this movie is a cliché, especially the characters.  Tripp’s mom and Glover don’t get any development, Lowe is a caricature, and the supporting cast is even worse.  There is a female student, played by Levy, who enters the plot to help out Tripp with his homework (now that’s character motivation).  Of course these two planks of wood have to get together (even though they have as much chemistry as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in By the Sea) then save these monsters.  Unfortunately, most of their scenes amount to filler.  Whenever this girl contributes to the plot, she’ll say something like, “My dad has tools” or “My dad has an empty barn that he never looks inside of.”  All this girl does is provide Tripp with Dues Ex Machina’s!  What is really annoying is that they do this at least 4 times!

Oh gosh I haven’t even gotten to the acting in this movie!  Everyone is atrocious!  Till is awkwardly strange, Ryan/Lowe/Pepper aren’t even trying, Glover has 3 minutes of screentime, and Levy is… just the worst.  Wedge must have been absent for every one of her scenes, because it’s almost like she doesn’t know what acting is.  Everyone in this movie has given good performances in the past, but that’s what happens when your script is sewage.

There is a reason why I chose not to make this a spoiler review.  Judging from the sound of laughter in my theater, I can say that little kids will have a blast with it.  Not to say you (someone over the age of 14) should waste your money on it, but there is an audience that likes it.  You could probably predict every scene up until the climax.  Speaking of which, the third act (which is oddly similar to that of Starman) thoroughly defenestrated any suspension of disbelief that I still had.  The CGI is terrible from the start, but it really shows in this climax, it contains a poor use of the Wilhelm scream, physics are abused, and the ending is incredibly cheesy.  That’s it, we’re done.

Monster Trucks is not one of the worst films out there because it’s not insulting, nor offensive, just absurdly stupid.  It’s the type of movie that you would watch on a Friday night with your buddies, dollar store popcorn in one hand and alcoholic (I prefer H2O) beverage in the other, and let the belly laughs ensue.  It may not be as confusingly entertaining as The Room or Birdemic, but trust me; it’s in the ballpark.  Monster Trucks gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.

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

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.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” Review

If you do not know, I really don’t like The Force Awakens.  The story is a copy-pasted rip-off of A New Hope, the acting was iffy, and every time I rewatched it, I like it less and less.  While everyone was worried that Rogue One would not live up to its predecessor, I was worried that it would rip off The Empire Strikes Back.  Needless to say, I got my wish while everyone else missed out.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is directed by Gareth Edwards and written by: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, and Gary Whitta.  Stars: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Forest Whittaker, and James Earl Jones.  Premise-A ragtag group of Rebels risk everything to steal the plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon.  Set before the opening of the original Star Wars.

It’s interesting; the first two thirds of this movie are nothing but exposition and slow pacing, and the last third falls into some of the best that the Star Wars franchise has to offer.  If you know the plot of A New Hope, then you know the outcome of Rogue One, so the story has to be reeeeeeeely investing in order to distract us from the predictable ending.  For the most part, it succeeds.  While none of the new characters are as promising as others in the Star Wars universe, they hold their own pretty well.  The performances vary.  While most of the cast is on the same level of above-average (with the exceptions of Mads Mikkelsen and Donnie Yen who are very compelling), Felicity Jones is not.  She was fine in The Theory of Everything, but in this, movie, she usually keeps a blank expression or looks awkward (particularity during a crying scene).

Time to talk about a few controversial decisions.  One, no title crawl.  To me this was a smart decision.  When it comes to sidequels, they shouldn’t try to imitate the feeling of the original storyline (that would be an insult).  If the sidequel cannot create its own identity within the lore, then it should not exist.  Number two: Michael Giacchino replacing Alexandre Desplat to score Rogue One.  Originally, Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, etc.) was hired to compose the music, but extensive reshoots postponed his composing sessions, and was unable to work on it.  Disney hired Giacchino as a quick, and fitting, replacement.  Giacchino gets a lot of flak because many of his sci-fi scores sound alike (just compare 2009’s Star Trek with Doctor Strange), but his music in Rogue One is beautiful.  He doesn’t try to copy John Williams, instead his style adds to the tone of the movie, and every scene is elevated by it.  Number three: using CGI to bring back a character.  If you haven’t seen the teaser, there is a certain character from the original trilogy that makes an appearance in Rogue One.  The actor playing them is dead, so they used CGI and sound techniques to bring them to life.  While it is cool seeing this character again, and it is not as awkward as CGI Paul Walker, this wasn’t necessary.

Everything I have said so far could be ignored because the only justification I need to convince you to see this movie is the final act.  I sat through 90 minutes of exposition and sporadic setting changes hoping for one heck of a climax.  Remember how Snowpiercer was ruined by a Matrix Reloaded style ending that consisted of clunky exposition and a Deus Ex Machina?  Rogue One is highly elevated by a climax that satisfyingly wraps up every character arc, is action-packed, well-acted, fast-paced, and sets up A New Hope flawlessly.  There is a subtle theme of teamwork throughout this movie, and it is not better demonstrated than in the last third, where I felt like I was watching one of the original movies (something The Force Awakens didn’t accomplish).  The ending is the last thing that the audience sees before they leave, and thus it is the first thing they remember.  If the ending left them with a bitter taste in their mouths, their entire experience (no matter how good the rest of the movie is) is connected to that bitterness.  If you leave them with positive feelings, they will be left with a positive opinion of the movie.

I had to scrap part of this review because I realized it was nothing but comparing Rogue One to The Force Awakens instead of reviewing it.  But that should be a testament to how much better Rogue One is.  While making movies about what happened before A New Hope was a bad idea from the start (that’s why A New Hope’s writing is so ingenious), I am surprised at how well they did it with this movie.  Weird considering that the writing team consisted of a visual effects supervisor, the writer of the Cinderella remake, the director of The Bourne Legacy, and the co-writer of After Earth.  In case I don’t get another chance to say this, Merry Christmas!  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

“Doctor Strange” Review

Many people have that “one” movie they have been looking forward to all year; for some it’s Jason Bourne, for others it’s Suicide Squad, and for everyone it is Star Wars: Rouge One.  But for me, it is Doctor Strange.  Even though I have read only a few of his comics, every time he made an appearance I felt a giddiness that only my favorite superheroes (e.g. Captain America, Batman, and David Dunn) can create.  Unlike DC (who can’t put out a good movie this year), Marvel has continued to impress with a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting origin story.

Doctor Strange is directed by Scott Derrickson, and written by: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill.  Stars-Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachael McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, and Benedict Wong.  Premise-The origin story of Dr. Stephen Strange who, while seeking spiritual healing after an accident, learns mystical secrets and gains powers to defeat unseen enemies.

What’s that?  A pink (or in this case white) elephant in the room?  Yes, Tilda Swinton is not Asian.  Even though I believe that white-washing still exists, I do not believe that it was practiced in this movie.  For one, why would they risk a Ghostbusters (2016) level of bad press especially when they need this movie to be successful to expand their universe?  Secondly, Derrickson himself said “Certainly our intentions were to subvert racial stereotypes and to create the best possible diversity between within the cast.”  I think this was a good decision.  Look at the cast members I listed; that is a far more diverse cast than other recent Marvel movies.  If you needed any more proof, the cast is incredible!

Each actor is thoroughly lost in their role (whether it be over-the-top, philosophical, comic relief, or dramatic), and the characters they play are well-developed and have great chemistry.  My only gripe with the characters is the Marvel formula.  The lead character is egocentric, really good at one specific thing that will get him noticed by higher-ups, he makes a lot of quips, poorly treats his loved ones, and fights a one-dimensional villain.  The Marvel formula has worked for a reason, but I am just getting a bit tired of it.  What made Deadpool different was the R rating, what made Civil War different was the emotional divide between the Avengers.  Doctor Strange would be a stronger character if I wasn’t reminded of Tony Stark so often.  As for the villain, well, he is about 20% better of a villain than Apocalypse or whoever the villain in Ant-Man was.  The mere intensity of Mikkelsen is enough to save the character, but he is essentially the villain who abused his teacher’s power and betrayed them (you may have seen this cliché in Ant-Man, Attack of the Clones, The Force Awakens, and a dozen other movies).  Despite this, the characters are still fleshed-out and their interactions are natural.

What really makes this movie worth watching, multiple times, are the incredible F/X, action sequences, and humor.  Think of the F/X in Inception (especially the “Paris folding in on itself” scene); now add the spell-casting visuals of Warcraft or Harry Potter.  I have been very hard on CGI in movies (especially when it is not needed or if the story can’t support it), but Doctor Strange has some of the best visual effects I have ever seen in a movie.  Scott Derrickson directed Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil (2014), and the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I have no idea how Disney (who owns Marvel) keeps casting directors that seem like odd choices, but makes them turn out extremely well.  Derrickson’s direction in this movie is extremely underrated.  Since this movie is based on comics that explored interdimensional travel, you should expect some trippy stuff on screen, and I cannot express how much fun it is to mimic some of the moves the characters do in the movie.  The action scenes are very well-choreographed, and the jokes are gold 90% of the time.

There were two things that surprised me, first, the philosophy, and second the ending.  No, I’m not talking about the end credits scenes; I mean the last third of the film.  Throughout the movie, we are treated to some legitimately intriguing and creative philosophy and themes.  There is one particular scene between Strange and The Ancient One (Swinton) that is just them looking out of a window contemplating death.  This is when the strongest moments of character are present, and it cleverly opens the door to future plot points.

I am so glad that one of my favorite movies of the year came out in my birthday month.  God knows I needed it after watching Trolls…ugh.  I took very few notes when I watched it because I didn’t want to miss anything.  Thank you for your time, now go watch this movie.  Even if you don’t get into the story, the visuals and action scenes are definitely worth the price of admission.  Doctor Strange gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.