My Thoughts On: “Den of Thieves”

While I’m working on in-depth reviews of Call Me by Your Name and The 15:17 to Paris (the latter of which is terrible), I’m writing shorter reviews of other flicks I saw.  Thanks to MoviePass, which you should get if you watch more than two movies a month, I don’t have to worry about ticket prices so I can see every single movie I want to without breaking the bank.  One of these movies I watched for fun was Den of Thieves, a heist thriller following a tough cop (Gerard Butler) and a group of professional thieves.

The greatest fault of Den of Thieves is that it takes itself too seriously.  What I like about the movie are the cool action sequences and Butler’s no-filter performance.  Unfortunately, it tries to recreate the hardcore drama of great heist flicks like Heat, which was great because of its thorough dedication to completing every character’s story arc (hence the three-hour runtime).  Den of Thieves focused too much on character drama, Butler has to deal with family issues but they never resolve it, and not enough time on thrills.

Nothing particularly stands out in this movie besides Butler, who can be found eating something in most of his scenes, and a plot twist that didn’t need to be there.  I think it was an attempt to make the movie stand out.  That said, these scenes revolving around family and drama are distracting at best and awkward at worst.  Throughout these scenes, at least we have Butler fully encompassing the obsessed cop who plays by his own rules.  He really does like smoking, eating, drinking, chewing, and spitting in this movie.  I think he pulled it off, but others might not.

In the end, it is the exciting action scenes that make this movie worth a watch.  It won’t leave you with any emotions or things to talk about: and that’s perfectly fine.  Den of Thieves is a passable action flick with enough 80s testosterone to keep you invested.  It gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B-.  Hey, if you want a bad heist thriller, watch the overly-convoluted Triple 9.


‘Murder on the Orient Express:’ all style, no substance

*This was my last assignment for The Examiner.  It’ll probably be the last review you see for awhile.  Not only do I have finals week powering towards me like the Orient Express itself, but I have some personal things to work through which take a lot of my energy (so please be patient).  If I don’t get the chance again to say this, have a Merry Christmas!*


Hollywood has a serious problem with excessive remakes, if the recent fad of live-action Disney remakes is anything to go by, but when I first heard of a “Murder on the Orient Express” remake, I was excited. The original 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel was OK. The actors (particularly Albert Finney’s charismatic performance as the lead) were entertaining and the mystery was interesting. However, I greatly disliked the beginning and ending. It took a while for the plot to get moving and the resolution, while original and clever, made the rest of the film feel overly-complex.

Flash-forward 43 years and multi-talented British artist Sir Kenneth Branagh brings us his interpretation of the classic book. Is it worth seeing?  Well, yes and no. We’ve got a complicated one today.

“Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) is written by Michael Green and directed by Branagh. Set in the 1930s, impeccable detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) seeks a vacation from solving crimes so he sets to board the Orient Express on its way to France. Much to his horror, a violent murder of one of the train’s passengers was committed overnight and the train is blocked by snow the next morning. Now Poirot must solve the mystery before the train is cleared and the murder can escape… or kill another passenger.

There are many things this movie does right, but there are many more it does wrong.  Branagh shines as Poirot and I haven’t seen better casting for Johnny Depp since “Rango” in 2011. However the rest of the cast, try as they might, never seem to reach their full potential (with the exception of Michelle Pfeiffer).

The movie is presented very well. Creative camerawork, grand music and sleek sets/costumes recreate a bygone era and it’s cool to see. Unfortunately, the movie is not as engaging on a story level.

While the opening scene felt somewhat cartoony, the tone changes from lighthearted and intriguing to dead serious and sad. The second half of the movie felt entirely different that the first. I don’t mind a comedic murder mystery (“Clue” is probably the best example of that subgenre), but the tone should be the same throughout. Otherwise you end up with a movie that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.

As far as what they changed from the original, not too much. The characters are largely the same, the ending is the same (sadly) and I was left with the same unsatisfied feeling I had with the original. Both movies put too much stock in the climax (when the killer is revealed) and not nearly enough with making the characters fun to watch. Granted, they could be worse, but there is almost no rewatchability with these movies.

At the most, they added a few completely unnecessary action sequences and an additional twist which could have been cut completely. As much as I don’t want to say this, there was much more effort behind this movie than most remakes, there is no reason for this film to exist. Not even Branagh’s awesome mustache can save it.

I believe every mystery should warrant a second viewing so the audience can see what they missed or how the killer did it. Such was not the case for this remake. “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) had just enough wit, flashy visuals and intrigue to keep my attention, but only just.

Murder on the Orient Express gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

‘American Assassin’ delivers high-octane thrills, but little else

*Here is the first actual review I wrote for the paper.  Came out nicely I think.  The different writing style is the result of following the rules of the class.  For example, the titles are newspaper headlines.  Once again, I apologize for the lack of posts lately.  From now on, I will post my reviews one day after they are released in The Examiner (that’s the law).  Look forward to reviews of: Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, and Murder on the Orient Express (2017) these next two weeks.  Thank you, and let me know what you think!*


Of the many highly anticipated films of 2017, the big screen adaptation of Vince Flynn’s (what a cool name) best-selling novels about a counter-terrorism agent rank pretty high.  The Minnesotan author’s works have ridden the New York Times bestseller list for multiple weeks.  Unfortunately, Hollywood took the easy route again, and left us with a watered-down imitator.

“American Assassin” is directed by Michael Cuesta and written by: Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz.  The film follows Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brian), a young man who loses his fiancée in a terrorist shooting and sets out to eliminate radical organizations.  He is recruited by CIA agent Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who along with former Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) train him to prevent global terrorism acts.

The story about a rogue intelligence agent who plays by his own rules has been done before, to varying levels of success.  In the case of “American Assassin,” the genre familiarities greatly outweigh the positives.  Not to say those positives are not worth mentioning.

O’Brian plays the “lone wolf action movie hero” very well.  His dry, almost emotionless approach to playing Mitch Rapp fits the character, and the hand-to-hand combat scenes are believable because of his devotion to learning the choreography and use of weapons.  Keaton provides charisma as the typical, tough, wise, mentor.  While it’s great to report that no fault can be found with the cast, the same cannot be said for the screenplay.

Even though the premise is solid and promises one tense picture, what the film ends up being is a predictable mess of poorly-shot action sequences and way too many scenes of government-driven dialogue.  Which sounds interesting, but there is actually very little substance in this movie.

Similar to this year’s “Power Rangers” and “Ghost in the Shell,” there are enough decent characters and potentially interesting stories to spawn some much better sequels.  However, that doesn’t forgive the lack of effort with the first film.  Much of this problem comes down to how fast the story goes.  There is never enough time devoted to the characters before they are thrown into the next big action scene.  Needless to say, the movie could have used another 30 minutes in the runtime, and the result would have been a much more investing story.

As far as how faithful this film is to the source material goes; head writer Stephen Schiff explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that, “Most of what’s in the movie is not in the book.”  This includes a villain whose entire character is an overdone cliché.

This is perhaps where the movie missteps the worst.  The villain is almost exactly the same as: Tai Lung from “Kung Fu Panda,” Kaecilius from “Doctor Strange,” or Anakin Skywalker from “Revenge of the Sith.”  Instead of having Rapp battle terrorists, he fights a boring former American soldier.  This change simply takes away the entire purpose of Rapp being a counter-terrorism agent.

The last thing worth noting is the implied moral dilemma.  The main motivation of the protagonist is revenge, which is not a biblical principle.  An eye for an eye is not the best way to create peace, and yet, the methods the United States use to fight terrorism often function on a basis of “the ends justify the means.”  “American Assassin” understands this question and devotes dialogue to discussing how Rapp combines rage and impeccable skills to make the world “safer.”  Considering American’s current culture of hatred and lack of understanding, this is certainly a topic that should be discussed.

In the end, “American Assassin” is a barely-serviceable action thriller.  The action scenes are worth watching and the two leads entertain, but the characters and story needed much more work.

American Assassin gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C.

“Dunkirk” Review

Dunkirk is written and directed by Christopher Nolan.  Stars-Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, and Kenneth Branagh.  Premise-Over 400,000 allied soldiers are trapped on the beaches of the French city of Dunkirk with little to no means of escape.  As the Nazis close in, the evacuation options seem nonexistent, until allied civilians take matters into their own hands.

I got the credits out of the way because we’re going to dive right into the meat of this epic.  The Dunkirk Evacuation is undoubtedly one of the most important moments in history, and the fact that one of Britain’s greatest filmmakers has taken up the mantle to tell the story to the masses greatly boosts my hope for humanity.  While, the amount of respect I have for the crew is unparalleled, my enjoyment of the finished product is a little shaky.

Since it’s a Nolan film you can expect the technicals to be freaking perfect!  I saw Dunkirk in a dingy auditorium with a minuscule screen, but every bullet, bomb, and machine reverberated through me like a crash of thunder.  Add Hoyte Van Hoytema’s Oscar-worthy camerawork (the wide shots… just wow) and you’ve got yourself one immersive war film.  Oh, and let’s not forget Hans Zimmer’s intensely powerful music!  Academy, if you don’t give these two nominations, there will be blood, because they bring out the best in each other.  Supermarine alone is packed with fear and suspense, and the practical effects and sets are 100% believable.  Seriously, watching this movie is like being there with our characters because the direction is that good.

Now on to the writing, this (unfortunately) is where all my complaints lie.  When this film was first announced, I wondered if Nolan would change up his writing style a bit for it.  After all, this is his first movie based off real events.  A few of these changes would be a much shorter runtime (1 hour, 46 minutes), and a plot that doesn’t put much emphasis on character development.  It’s an experience film if anything (we get two actions scenes before we learn anyone’s name) and that works in the movie’s favor since the scope and spectacle are so engrossing.  The performances are just as excellent (Rylance, Whitehead, and Murphy especially stand out), and there are definitely a couple characters to like.

Now bear with me, because I know some of you will see these upcoming problems as nitpicks.  Truth be told, I thought the same thing, but nitpicks don’t usually get on your nerves now do they?  More or less, these are questions.  First, we never get a good look at the Nazis.  The only time we ever see actual German soldiers, it’s in the last 10 minutes of the movie, and they’re cast in shadow.  There is absolutely no adaptation of World War I or II that should sanitize how evil the Nazis truly were.  Especially since over here in America, Nazi ideologies (like white supremacy) have resurfaced (for many reasons, but there’s no time to go into that here).  This is a pure guess, but I think Dunkirk was made in a way to educate as well as entertain.  After all, Nolan went for PG-13 when some of the stuff in this film could have easily been much more realistic (aka, pretty violent/profane).  I can imagine this film playing in every school in England, and that’s great!  Young people (including myself) need to know this stuff, but playing down the evil of the most racist ideology of all time is not a wise decision.  If you want more proof, the opening credits that tell us the date and what’s happening use the term, “The Enemy” to describe the Nazis, and they don’t give the date of the event (which will confuse anyone who doesn’t already know that Dunkirk happened in 1940, before the U.S. got involved).  I apologize if I’m dragging this out; I have very low tolerance for the party that killed over 14 million innocent people.

That last paragraph aside, Dunkirk is still an exceptionally well-made thriller that depicts the horrors of war.  Considering how unbelievably bland this year has been, it’s very satisfying to see Nolan deliver once more.  The proof of this movie’s success is feeling that sense of victory even though the event was essentially a loss, and skill of that caliber simply must be recognized.  Dunkirk gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

Top Ten Christopher Nolan Films

If you’ve viewed Christopher Nolan’s IMDb page over 50 times, like me, then you’d know that Dunkirk is his tenth feature-length film.  This means no one has been able to make a proper Top Ten list.  Many of you will think I’m crazy for pre-writing a top ten list in anticipation for a new release (I started this thing last month).  To them I say, “Since I’m not making any money off of this, I might as well have fun.”  Anyways, today I am going to rank each respective film from one of the-hands down-best directors of the millennium.


  • There will not be a synopsis for most of these films.
  • There will be no spoilers in this list.
  • This list is determined by: 80% overall quality and 20% my opinion.
  • Please watch every one of Nolan’s films so he never stops making movies.

No more delays, let’s begin.


#10 – The Dark Knight Rises (Grade – C)

Let’s start out this fanboyish countdown by saying that I really don’t like this movie!  Bear in mind, Mr. Nolan is incapable of producing anything resembling garbage, and the effort is clearly on screen.  The action sequences are well-choreographed, the scope of the movie is huge, and the music added so much emotion to every scene.  That said, the performances are awkward, it has more plotholes than The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the social commentary was akin to a pretentious high schooler’s first social studies essay.  Some believe The Dark Knight was never meant to be a trilogy, and when you compare The Dark Night to its sequel, you can see the difference in quality.  Still, the action is jaw-droppingly cool, so it’s not a complete waste of time.


#9 – Following (Grade – B)

One year after releasing his short film Doodlebug (which is worth checking out), Nolan wrote, directed, produced, shot, and edited his first film, Following; about a writer who follows random strangers around to gain inspiration (until one of his targets, a criminal, shows the man his operation).   While many have said there’s nothing special about this movie (considering what the director would go on to make much better stuff), but Nolan unlocked his inner Robert Rodriguez by doing most of the work himself.   Might I say, the end result is very pleasing.  The black and white film allows for some interesting camerawork, and the pacing, while slow, builds to one stellar ending.  This low-budget gem has made it into the Criterion Collection for a reason, and is a must-see for fans of the genre.


#8 – The Prestige (Grade – B+)

In late 2014, a very young, and even more naive, Erick was about to do his weekly routine of ironing clothes while watching a movie.  Obviously, my attention would be more concentrated on the scalding-hot piece of metal near my fingers, so I’d typically watch something that didn’t demand much attention.  As it turned out, The Prestige was a bad choice.  After the first 2 minutes, I knew this movie was going to require the audience’s complete cooperation.  Figuring the black slacks could wait, I sat down and restarted the film.  Two mind-bending hours later, and my understanding of cinema as a whole was changed.  At that moment, Christopher Nolan became one of my favorite filmmakers.  Now that I’m older, and have studied the art form for a while, I can properly appreciate the work.  This movie does so many things right, like casting David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, treating the audience (and the subject matter) with maturity and intelligence, having Michael Caine say the word “prestige,” there’s a lot to be found with this movie.  It’s an excellent period piece drama/thriller that will require a few trips to the Internet in order to fully understand what the heck that ending was.


#7 – Dunkirk (Grade-A-)

I just saw this war film a few hours ago; and I will have the full review out on Sunday.  For now, it is a fine example of passionate filmmaking and attention-to-detail.  Nolan uses a very traditional approach to this one, and it pays off for the most part.  The performances felt real, the narrative is respectful (if not a bit sanitized), and the suspenseful scenes are rattling.


#6 – Batman Begins (Grade-A-)

In preparation for this list, I watched a butt-ton of videos on Christopher Nolan.  One video in particular puts my writing skills to shame, and ironically, it was an essay about Batman BeginsStrange.  Well, better to try and fail than regret not taking the chance.  Batman Begins is a masterpiece of storytelling, and revived the superhero genre by treating its source material in a mature fashion.  This movie features some of the best exposition any screenwriter could ever ask for, and it all balances out with moments of action, complex characters, fine performances, and an engrossing tone.  It’s one of the three pre-2010 superhero flicks that started the superhero craze, and it shouldn’t be missed.


#5 – Insomnia (Grade-A-)

Did you know that this is the only Nolan-directed movie that he didn’t write?  Did you also know it’s a hallmark of subtly, suspense, cinematography, and acting?  Insomnia is one of those purposefully quiet productions that-while major critical hits-typically bomb at the box office (like Take Shelter or Donnie Darko).  In keeping with that genre, Insomnia is a feast for cinephiles.  The plot is simple, two detectives are sent to Alaska to search for the man who killed a 16-year-old girl.  What unravels is Nolan at his most ruthless (by the way, this film’s rated R).  First off, my gosh, the acting is fantastic.  This has to be one of Al Pacino’s most sympathetic roles of his career.  He struggles to find this killer while also dealing with his own personal issues, Hilary Swank is supportive, but also very intelligent, and Robin Williams…this is one of his most authentic performances.  There is little to no humor in his character, but what he brings to the table is one of the most impressive breakaway performances in history.  His dialogue is limited, but every second of it is incredible.  Forgive me if this all sounds rather vague, I am nowhere near the level of intelligence that this movie is on, so it’s difficult to explain how well it’s made.  Despite this, it is one heck of a film for anyone looking for underrated classics.


#4 – Memento (Grade-A)

“Okay, so what am I doing? Oh, I’m chasing this guy. No, he’s chasing me.”  There are so many brilliant moments in this brilliant movie.  Memento catapulted Nolan into critical acclaim much similar to M. Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense.  Meaning they both did something narratively that audiences had either never experienced, or weren’t expecting.  In the case of Memento, the story is told backwards.  This movie was unbelievably risky, as it easily could have alienated viewers, but pushing the boundaries of storytelling is one of Nolan’s best skills, and this psychological thriller is a fine example.  As far as second features go, this one feels like it was made by an archaic master rather than a newcomer because the quality of the filmmaking is top-notch.  Not only is Wally Pfister’s camerawork oozing with atmosphere, the constantly uncertain tone keeps you on the edge of your seat as the story unravels.  Speaking of amazing things, Leonard Shelby is one of the coolest protagonists in film history.  Guy Pearce is at his best in this film, his character design is like something out of a comic book, and his motivations make him a very sympathetic hero.  It’s one of the most original movies you’ll ever watch, and the mere idea of remaking it is asinine.


#3 – The Dark Knight (Grade-A)

Oh, stop crying just because the second best superhero movie of all time is #3.  If it were not for the last 10 minutes (the Joker should have died, and Batman didn’t have to take the fall for everything), it would be higher  Also, don’t be upset because Unbreakable is better than The Dark Knight.  We all know why this movie’s awesome.  Heath Ledger is the best Joker of all time, it was nominated for more Oscars than any other movie about grown men in goofy costumes, the practical effects drop jaws, and the script is packed with more smart commentary than a season of early Simpsons.  On a filmmaking scale, you could study ever frame for 5 minutes and get enough out of it to write a film report.  The Dark Knight proved that superhero movies could be dark, better than their predecessor, and make bank (over $1 billion to be precise) all at the same time.


#2 – Interstellar (Grade-A)

Ever noticed that this guy has a talent for titles?  Even though I’ve given this movie its own-somewhat crappy-review and talked extensively about it in the Study Scores list, I could go on forever with this one because it makes me so happy!  Oh, there are problems, but this movie requires faith from the audience to stick with it for the 3-hour runtime.  Those who do are greatly rewarded.  Many people think this was the point where Nolan ignored common sense and just wrote whatever complex nonsense came into his mind.  Whew!  That was difficult to type in and of itself.  Forgive me audience (and any future employers who may see this), but these complaints are pure balderdash!  The amount of research I put into this movie rivals that of college essay finals!  One of the factoids I came across explained that Nolan did his dang research about space, black holes, and other sciency things I can’t pronounce before writing a movie where Ron Woodroof saves humanity.  Guy’s, he knows what he’s doing.  Even if (which is a pretty big “if”) the story doesn’t grab you, the visuals definitely will.  Interstellar features some of the most impressive CGI and sets of our time.  It also features one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores.  I won’t deny, there is a bit of filler, but what’s excellent (like the action scenes) is truly magnificent.  When people talk about spiritual successors in film, Interstellar is the true sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.


#1 – Inception (Grade-A+)

“I try to be all about story.” – The greatest storyteller in Hollywood today

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie (nothing of any consequence that is).  Every single thing about it works so well!  The effects (both practical and CGI) are convincing, the action sequences are creative and exciting, the actors have charisma, the ideas are interesting, the plot is original, the emotional element is strong, the music is intense, and it should have won Best Original Screenplay!!!!  Pardon me… I just can’t stand the Academy some times.  For someone to tell me they didn’t enjoy this monument, leaves me in a state of bewilderment.  Sure, everyone loves The Dark Knight, but Inception is the perfect summer blockbuster.  Action sequences that actually entertain, characters that you like, and a script that doesn’t treat you like a statistic.  I’m greatly inspired by this movie if you couldn’t tell.  It’s actually my favorite movie of all time, and for good reason.  Nolan knows where the movie starts and ends, and once the story (which he was apparently working on since Memento in ten years earlier) is perfected, the rest runs like clockwork.  You could watch this movie countless times and learn something new each time.


Ahhh, now that was fun!  Whether or not you like Nolan’s approach to filmmaking, you cannot deny that he has consistently delivered high-quality stuff.  The guy simply hasn’t made a bad movie, and I don’t think he ever will.  Now that being said, I’m going to go to bed, have an awesome dream inspired by Inception, and watch a lot of movies tomorrow!  Goodnight and thank you for your time.

“Baby Driver” Review

Remember A Cure for Wellness (all 10 of you who saw it)?  An original thriller, from one of the most interesting directors working in the industry, whose trailer showed much promise but disappointed due to bad narrative choices?  The punchline is that Baby Driver is a major disappointment.

Baby Driver is written and directed by Edgar Wright.  Stars-Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Lily James, and Jamie Foxx.  Premise-Expert getaway driver Baby is forced into one last job before he can leave the business.  Unfortunately, there are many more distractions, dangers, and unforeseen variables this time.

In the same vain as A Cure for Wellness, I don’t like Baby Driver because of how amazing it could have been.  I realize I’ve said nothing about the actual movie yet, but this foundation needs to be set, otherwise you’ll not understand why I don’t like this movie as a whole, because it has a lot going for it.

For starters, Elgort is outstanding.  His graduation from the “teenage drama novel” genre is seamless as he can carry this movie purely through his subtle, but charming performance.  Another high point is the outstanding soundtrack!  You know how a lot of recent action movie trailers obnoxiously sync up punches, gunshots, etc., to their royalty free loud music?  Well, Mr. Wright somehow improved and transformed this concept into its own character.  Every song choice is accompanied by fast editing, cinematographer Bill Pope’s long takes, and Elgort jiving to them.  I know, this sounds like some “hip” car or iPod commercial, but it just works (I really cannot explain how, it just does).  Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end.

As I stumble my way through this misfire, be wary of the difference between wasted potential, and an actual bad thing about the film.  For example, wasted potential is found in the form of casting Kevin Spacey as the villain, but making every single line of his dialogue 1 of 2 things: a clichéd “bad guy boss” line, or something that makes him look like an idiot.  You could tell from the trailer that he was not to be messed with (“Your girlfriend’s cute.  Let’s keep it that way.”), but it’s never explained why the audience should be intimidated by him.  The most we get is that he has higher ups, and that’s a flimsy reason (he doesn’t even have bodyguards).  Not helping are some braindead decisions he makes.  Like hiring a crazy Jamie Foxx (whose temper and personality are an obvious liability) for simple bank robberies, and trusting his driver who is clearly not committed to the job.  On the other hand, an actual bad thing about the movie would be Baby’s babe (I’d tell you her character name, but I think it would be a spoiler, so we’ll just go with Lily James).  She has absolutely no character.  Aside from a fantasy of driving forever while listening to music, she is nothing but a nice piece of a** for Baby to fawn over so the plot can move forward.  These would be simple distractions if not for one more thing… this film gets worse and worse as it goes on.

I’m reminded of Bolt, a movie that also started with a fast-paced chase that left you begging for more.  Then it turned into a complex character piece with way more drama than the opening suggested.  The same effect happens with Baby Driver, only it’s not as original, not as funny, and doesn’t have John Travolta.  By comparison, the third act is something out of a Michael Bay film.  I’m not dreaming this up; there was a notable drop in the pacing, energy, and style.  The climax is especially terrible.  For starters, it doesn’t one-up the opening (which is a requirement for action films), it drags on and on, and the overall big brash explosiony angle they went with doesn’t belong with the rest of the movie.  The ending is arguably (if there was anyone who would argue it) even worse; mostly because, it’s so CHEESY.  I may sound whiny about this, but since the climax/ending, is what you remember the most when you leave the theater, it left a very sour taste in my mouth.

Is that a look of denial on your face?  Perhaps you’re thinking, “Who’s this talentless nobody?  How and why did I find his amateur blog and continue reading the first thing I saw?”  First, ouch.  Second, I felt a similar feeling of disbelief upon leaving the theater.  We’re talking about Edgar Wright here, who always delivers when he’s behind the camera, so I looked for reasons why this happened.  To my knowledge, there are no sources to confirm this, but I chalk the Hollywoodization up to the production company… Sony.  It wouldn’t be the first time they ruined a movie (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) with their childish insecurities of, “we have to make sequels!”  It also wouldn’t be the first time Edgar Wright was screwed over by a producer (Ant-Man).  I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I disagree with literally everyone when it comes to Baby Driver which gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

“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-.