thriller

“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-.

“The Circle” Review

The Circle is directed by James Ponsoldt and written by James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers.  Stars-Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, and Bill Paxton.  Premise-A woman snags a job at the biggest company in the world (the Circle).  No sooner has one week passed and she can tell something is amiss about the bucolic establishment and its agendas.

Wow is this movie a backfire!  Not a misfire, a great-aim-but-blows-up-in-your-face backfire.  I may fly off the handle later in the review, but considering how serious the movie is taking itself, I’d say it is warranted.  The themes and issues the film talks about are very important, and the treatment they give it is nothing short of botched.  Let’s start with the presentation.

Try as the filmmakers might, they cannot achieve the level of suspense created by other films of the “sinister corporation investigated with a twenty-something intellect as the lead” genre.  While I could point out every single comparison to The Social Network (like the electronica score and a socially awkward young intellectual getting into a prestigious corporation), that would be too easy, instead, I’ll go over how The Circle (wow that’s a boring title) fails on its own merits.

To start, the performances are quite lackluster.  With the exception of Bill Paxton who plays Watson’s dad (who has multiple sclerosis) and does the part with sympathy, charm, and good humor, everyone is collecting a paycheck.  Watson is bland, Hanks is barley in the movie, and the supporting cast is extremely awkward.  Most of the movie follows the infamous “tell don’t show” style of filmmaking; that is, all exposition, no action.  Unfortunately, the film has no idea how to maintain, or create for that matter, suspense and the result is a painfully slow 110 minutes of bland characters talking.  This is only a fraction of The Circle’s failures.  The real badness lies in the message.

*Before I continue, let it be known that any plot points I bring up are in the trailers*  Basically, the entire goal of the Circle is to have universally access to everything happening at all times with everybody.  This is achieved via tiny cameras placed anywhere and everywhere.  There would be no more secrets, and the word “private” would be nonexistent.  Yeah, if your initial emotion is fear, then your second is confusion.  The biggest problem with this movie is how unbelievably unbelievable it is.  There could be some business practices that I’m not aware of, but there is no conceivable way that this companie’s plan could be carried out in any form of reality.  The film takes itself so dang seriously, but it fails to account for things like: religious/moral beliefs, the law, age, race, social status, and human nature!  The nail in the coffin is the fact that we just had a movie about how corporations spying on us are wrong.  I think it was based off a famous fugitive… a privileged intellectual who got into a super influential organization… I think it had social commentary as well… oh yeah!  It was Snowden in 2016.  That same year, Jason Bourne and Now You See Me 2 used that message as a subplot.  Answer me this, if this message has been universally written about and discussed (it’s still a hot-button topic today), how can so many people buy into the Circle’s idea of no personal freedom or privacy?  It’s based on a book.  Well, then the screenwriter should have adjusted for what changed in the world (as the novel was published in 2013), or *GASP* write an original movie!  I already have a premise, set the film after the plan for world transparency has been enforced, and go from there.  At the very least it would be something we’ve never seen before.

This script came from the back alleys of Tumblr, I just know it.  Not only can you predict every twist and turn of this plot, but the social commentary is extremely propagandized and over-the-top.  Instead of subtle storytelling and detailed exposition scenes, we get one-sided fallacies posing as intellectual arguments.  What makes it even worse is how PC the movie is.  I stated that this movie (whose only non-white main character has all of 5 minutes on-screen) ignores variables like race, laws, and whatnot.  Well, it’s also very ethnocentric.  I can imagine showing this movie to different cultures around the world and seeing them look at it with confused/unconcerned expressions.  I wouldn’t care so much about this if the movie didn’t constantly act like, “This could really happen!  Be scared!”  Obviously, our world ain’t perfect, and technology has been abused by many to gain access to other people’s information.  However, The Circle seems to forget, the generation it’s aiming for distrusts big businesses almost as much as the government.  What makes it worse is that the characters are too bland to be relatable.  Watson’s character can’t seem to decide if she’s for or against the Circle.  Her character arc is extremely rushed, most of the supporting cast is simply forgotten about, and the ending fails to conclude each  character’s story.  Oy, what a mess.

The most you’ll get out of this movie is a reminder to keep your computer’s security system up-to-date; and a bit of contempt for the careers of everyone involved with the film.  Except for Paxton of course; that man couldn’t give a bad performance if he tried.  The Circle gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.

Ok, so where the heck have I been?  In short, I finished my final exams and the Top Ten Best Study Soundtracks list in the same week and it left me completely drained.  It took me some time to acknowledge it, but I needed a rest.  Not helping was trying to write this review in my exhausted state.  I scrapped at least 3 drafts of this review because I couldn’t get enough energy to complete it; the results were unsatisfying.  To remedy this, I took last week off.  Now I’m back to work and ready for action.  There is much more going on in my life, but that will have to wait for another post.  Also, I will get to reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as soon as I can.

“Fate of the Furious” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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-.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Robert Langdon Series Ranked

Angels & Demons (2000 Novel)-A+

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

The Da Vinci Code (2003 Novel)-A-

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

The Da Vinci Code (2006 Film)-D

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

Angels & Demons (2009 Film)-C-

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

The Lost Symbol (2009 Novel)-B-

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

Inferno (2013 Novel)-A-

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

Inferno (2016 Film)-F

Did you not read the review?

“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-.

My Thoughts On: “John Wick: Chapter 2”

I hope you’re prepared for nerdgasming, because this post is going to be little more than a neon sign flashing, “GO SEE THIS AWESOME MOVIE RIGHT NOW!!!”  It is rare to come across a sequel that one-ups its predecessor, and when that happens, it is truly a sight to behold.

Stuntman/director Chad Stahelski (who also directed the first film) returns with even more visual style and intense fight sequences to boot.  I cannot understate how incredible these action scenes are!  This is due to: brutal R-rated hand-to-hand combat, impeccable stunts, camerawork that doesn’t cut or shake around, and sound mixing that packs more punches than the characters do.  The violence in this movie is akin to that of a 90s action flick without the cheesiness or over-the-top setting.  Many people will disagree with me on that aspect, but John Wick 2 makes a great effort to validate the 100+ body count (among other improbabilities).  When characters hear “John Wick,” they shudder in fear or, if he’s in their presence, treat him with respect rivaling that of Pope Francis.  He’s one of the best assassins the crime underworld has ever seen.  It would only make sense that people fear him.

Speaking of crime underworld, John Wick 2 has a stronger story than the first.  I always thought the dog’s death was a flimsy motivation, and they remedied that by expanding the incredibly interesting criminal world in this movie.  We got hints of this in the first movie, like the cleaning service, golden coins, and the hotel.  Hey wait, I just figured it out!  Literally as I write this review, it dawned on me.  They intentionally teased at the underworld in the first movie so the audience would gain interest for future installments.  Do you know what that means?  A franchise film released in the last seven years didn’t beat you over the head with sequel-baiting exposition!  Excuse me, I must sob with joy.

The narrative may not be as solid for some (although the motivations in this movie are logical).  Come to think of it, the runtime is too long, and the characters are slightly generic.  But for what John Wick 2is, I wasn’t expecting Inception, just some kick-a** thrills and Keanu Reeves proving that he can act.  John Wick: Chapter 2 gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

“The Great Wall” Review

First thing’s first, casting Matt Damon in this movie was not a stroke of whitewashing.  I grow tired of having to clarify these things.  Internet, questioning is fine, but wait until you have all the facts before you accuse.  From the director himself, “In many ways The Great Wall is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience.  Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor.”  He was hired by a Chinese production company/director to play in the country’s most expensive film of all time.  That said, The Great Wall is probably that country’s worst movie of all time.

The Great Wall is directed by Yimou Zhang and written by: Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick, Max Brooks, Tony Gilroy, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard.  Stars-Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, and Willem Dafoe.  Premise-While running from bandits and searching for the fabled “black powder” (aka gunpowder), mercenary William (Damon) comes across the Great Wall of China, where he quickly learns that it is the first line of defense against a furious colony of creatures bent on consuming everything in sight.

If you want to look for whitewashing in this production, check out that writing team.  When I first saw “Story by Edward Zwick,” everything made much more sense because The Great Wall is a lot like a Zwick film: all style (action) no substance (story).  The best thing about this movie is the action sequences.  The sound design, Ramin Djawadi’s score, and a good sense of scale and urgency create some pretty cool battles.  Unfortunately, that, along with impeccable sets and costumes, is the only redeemable thing about this utterly forgettable flick.

Yimou Zhang is one of Asia’s most renowned directors (pretty close to Akira Kurosawa).  He’s won two BAFTAs and has directed several Oscar-nominated films.  My question is: why the living heck did he sign on to this Americanized dreck?!  Seriously,  I have never seen a more American film from a foreign production company/director in my life.  The Great Wall uses, literally, every single bad action movie cliché in the book.  Characters flying back half a mile when a green screen prop hits them, an attractive, white, male, mega star in the lead role, an overdose of crappy CGI, annoying shaky-cam, unfunny side characters, and of course, explosions.  This action movie sucks at creating suspense because I could predict it scene by scene, and since the characters are stock, boring clichés, The Great Wall is a bore to sit through.  Also, the trailers lie to your face.  The line, “I’ve fought for greed and gods” is not in the film, and the way they show the monsters suggest them to be something entirely different than what they really are.

If you need any proof of how no one cared about this project, just look at the actors.  When they’re not doing their best impression of an IKEA coffee table, they sport the, “I know being in this movie will sully my reputation, but I got paid big time” expression.  I honestly don’t blame them, they have nothing to work with.  You’re not going to believe this, but there are not one, not two, but three main characters that contribute absolutely nothing to the plot!  I have never seen that before in my life!  Not only that, but there are a million plot-wrecking plotholes and contrivances.  For example, it takes the movie till the halfway point (long enough for the audience to lose any suspension of disbelief) to explain where the heck these monsters came from, and doing so creates even more continuity issues.  I’m all for historically inaccurate films.  When properly written, we get the awesomely fun Inglourious Basterds, the incredibly dramatic Braveheart, and 300 (need I say more?).  Apparently this is one of the legends of the Great Wall of China.  What the filmmaker’s do not understand is that your movie has to be coherent regardless of historical accuracy.  There’s about 25 MacGuffin’s and none of them make any sense, despite their lazy attempts to dump exposition on everything.

The climax is especially ridiculous.  Just when you didn’t think they could cram in any more clichés, they do (and take your money at the same time).  I can’t list them all for fear of spoilers, but this one needs to be called out.  *MINOR SPOILER*  It is a death scene.  When this happened, I fully gave up on any dignity the movie had left.  It is perhaps the worst self-sacrifice I have ever come across.  They even do the slow-motion head turn as the character does the deed.  What’s insulting about this is that the character that dies is barely developed.  They have a few scenes, but the movie never even tells me their freaking name (at least, not to my knowledge)!  These were my immediate words after that scene, “Aw.  I cared so much for…whatshisname?”

After the thorough spanking I gave this movie, you’d probably expect me to call this one of the worst movies of all time.  Heck no.  The sad fact is, every now and then we get a mindless action movie with a grand scale setting.  It was Ben-Hur and Legend of Tarzan in 2016, San Andreas and Maze Runner: Scorch Trials in 2015, Transformers: Age of Extinction and I, Frankenstein in 2014 (there were many in that year), etc.  Each and every one of those films shares the same elements: boring, stupid, and forgettable.  Oh, and crappy.  I’m going to watch Kung Fu Hustle now and pray to God that these clichés (aka blights on cinema), end.  The Great Wall 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: “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.