Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) Movie Review

The Amazing Spider-Man is a 2012 science fiction superhero action thriller film directed by Marc Webb from a screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, based on the Marvel comic books and characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, produced by Kevin Feige, Michael Grillo, Avi Arad, Laura Ziskin, and Matt Tolmach, and starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Chris Zylka, C. Thomas Howell, Campbell Scott, and Embeth Davidtz.

Orphaned teenage social outcast Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), who lives with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), usually spends his days trying to unravel the mystery of his own past and winning the heart of his high school crush Gwen (Emma Stone), the daughter of NYPD captain George Stacy (Denis Leary). Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase belonging to his father Richard (Campbell Scott), who abandoned him when he was a child along with his mother Mary (Embeth Davidtz), which leads him to his father's former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). The discovery of his father's secret, as well as the murder of Ben, will ultimately shape his destiny of becoming the web-shooting superhero known as Spider-Man and brings him face to face with Connors' villainous alter ego, the Lizard.

A quick history of the Spider-Man franchise: the first Sam Raimi film is an enjoyable and fun little comic book film but I wouldn’t say it’s as good as many others make it out to be (I was particularly annoyed by the cheese factor, which I know is an essential trait of Raimi’s works, but I’m sorry, it just didn’t work for me here), the second installment is bar none the best Spider-Man film to date with the best story and the best villain, and the third and final chapter in the trilogy is a complete and total disaster with horrible direction, writing, and story structure. After Raimi bailed out on a potential fourth film due to creative differences, Sony hit the reset button on the series and hired (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb to take the helm for this reboot.

I know this and its sequel usually get a lot of hate, but personally, I feel that hate is completely unwarranted. The Amazing Spider-Man is not just a great reboot, it’s not just a great Spider-Man film, it’s honestly a great film in general. What I especially love is that this reboot is more faithful to the source material than the Raimi trilogy while still taking liberties that in no way, shape, or form hurt the film. Events from the 2002 film and the comics, such as the death of Uncle Ben and Peter being bitten by the radioactive spider, still happen, but through a different sequence of events. By doing this, Marc Webb and the writers are able to tell their own Spider-Man story while still making the fans happy. On top of this, this gives us an original albeit very similar origin story instead of merely rehashing the first Spider-Man film.

The acting is fantastic throughout. Before Tom Holland took the gold in Captain America: Civil War, Andrew Garfield lived and breathed Peter Parker. He’s likable, he’s energetic, he’s sympathetic, he’s funny, and he’s incredibly charismatic throughout. In the comics, Peter Parker is a nerd, but he's also a wisecracking smartass as Spider-Man, and Garfield pulls that off amazingly, fitting the Spider-Man persona perfectly. Emma Stone also does a great job playing Gwen Stacy, the original Spider-Man love interest, and in terms of the films, the obviously better one. She's a very witty, charming, and interesting character. Garfield and Stone also have amazing chemistry with one another, with their real-life relationship really shining through with their performances.

Rhys Ifans is brilliant as Curt Connors. He's a surprisingly very sympathetic character, but also comes across as very secretive, like he knows more than he's actually letting on. The character is also perfectly-written and Ifans truly does shine in this role, completely nailing the character and doing him great justice. The Lizard also manages to be a really good villain. I admit, more could’ve been done with the character looking back on it and the CGI used for this character could've been improved upon, but I do like that he looked the same way Steve Ditko drew him in the comics.

Martin Sheen is great as Uncle Ben, playing a more interesting version of the character than Cliff Robertson did in the original. This portrayal of Uncle Ben understands Peter much more, making him much more engaging, and because he's much more engaging, his death scene has much more emotional weight and much more of an impact to it this time around. Sally Field does a great job as Aunt May, who seems more worried about Peter, warning him that all secrets have a cost and are never for free. Denis Leary is a fantastic George Stacy. His fight scene at the end was so much fun to watch.

Now, this was the first action film Marc Webb has ever directed, and he does a great job behind the camera. All the action scenes are incredibly well-directed with slick camerawork and lush, fluid cinematography by the always awesome John Schwartzman. The editing by Michael McCusker, Alan Edward Bell, and Pietro Scalia also keeps the film moving at an expert pace and keeps the action fast and exciting without turning it into a mishmash of incomprehensible, needlessly flashy quick-cuts. The set and production designs by the late great J. Michael Riva are also really impressive. While there is plenty of CGI, there’s also a lot of practical effects that look amazing.

Now, the film does have some problems. When I first saw this film, I felt like a couple scenes were missing, and after I watched the trailers again and looked at production stills and set photos on Google Images, it's because there were scenes missing. The character of Dr. Rajit Ratha (Irrfan Khan) just disappears out of nowhere and his disappearance is never explained, not even in the sequel. There was also a really cool part of the trailer where Curt Connors says, "If you want the truth, Peter Parker... come and get it!" Is it in the film? Sadly, no.

Also, I really, really hate to be ranting about the Raimi trilogy again (especially because, barring the third one, I like the Raimi films, I really truly do honestly), but aside from being faithful to the source material, mechanical and artificial web-shooters are better because it makes no sense for Peter to be able to shoot webs out of his wrists like he did in the original films. Also, I liked how this film had a significant focus on Peter’s missing parents, which was never addressed in the Raimi trilogy and barely addressed in the source material. Another plus is that while the original films told the audience that Peter’s a genius and show characters perceiving Peter as a genius, this film, for the first time ever in a Spider-Man film, actually shows the audience Peter being a genius. We see him hacking security codes, we see him building his mechanical web-shooters, and we see him actually putting together his Spider-Man suit.

Also, a complaint I completely disagree with is that Peter gives up the hunt for his uncle’s killer for no real reason. While he does hunt for the killer, things change when Connors, as the Lizard, wreaks havoc on the bridge and Peter manages to save the civilians, including the child. It’s during this scene and when Peter talks to Gwen afterwards that he realizes he can't just look the other way when people need help, that sometimes one thing (stopping the Lizard, who planned on turning everyone in New York into giant lizard-people just like him) is more important than something else (hunting down Uncle Ben’s killer).

FINAL SCORE: 9/10

With an incredibly well-told story, fantastic performances, entertaining action sequences, and a script that manages to be faithful to the source material while still taking liberties that don't harm it in any way, The Amazing Spider-Man is a competently directed, tightly-paced, and immensely enjoyable reboot. As I said before, this isn’t just a great Spider-Man film, it’s a great film in general, and nowadays, I’d consider it and its sequel criminally underrated.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Book of Henry (2017) Movie Review

The Book of Henry is a 2017 comedy-drama thriller film directed by Colin Trevorrow from a screenplay by Gregg Hurwitz, produced by Sidney Kimmel, John Penotti, Jenette Kahn, Carla Hacken, Adam Richman, Nick Meyer, Bruce Toll, and Sue Baden-Powell, and starring Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Dean Norris, Maddie Ziegler, Sarah Silverman, Lee Pace, Bobby Moynihan, Tonya Pinkins, Geraldine Hughes, and Jackson Nicoll.

In a small suburban town, precocious 11-year-old Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Lieberher) and his younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) are being raised by their single mother Susan (Naomi Watts), a waitress. Henry has a crush on the stepdaughter of Police Commissioner Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris), Christina (Maddie Ziegler), who has become glum. He discovers that Glenn is abusing her. To protect Christina from harm at the hands of Glenn, Henry comes up with a plan to rescue her that he writes down in a book. When Henry suddenly dies of a brain tumor, Susan discovers the book and decides that she and Peter will put Henry's scheme into motion.

The Book of Henry was an original screenplay that was penned by famed crime novelist Gregg Hurwitz back in 1998, with Hurwitz going back and constantly retooling it for years. Colin Trevorrow, fresh off his indie hit Safety Not Guaranteed, was set to make this his next film, but then he got the call to direct Jurassic World. After the critical and box office success of that film, Trevorrow went back to The Book of Henry, choosing it to be his next project before setting off to write Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and direct Star Wars: Episode IX. After seeing The Book of Henry, I walked out of the theater thinking to myself, “What on Earth did I just watch?”

Where do I even start with a film this fascinating and this bizarre? I could point how flamboyant it is in its jarring shifts in tone, but I don’t think that would work because honestly, this film has no tone to speak of, at least no consistent one. It’s first a comedy-drama about a precocious kid, then it’s a family film in the Spielbergian-Amblin style, then it’s a sentimental tearjerker about death and a brain tumor, then it’s a serious drama about child abuse, and then it’s a thriller in the vein of Hitchcock complete with walkie-talkies, suicide, and a sniper rifle. It’s like Trevorrow and Hurwitz were throwing all of these different genres and styles at the wall and see which one sticks, and while it doesn’t bore the audience in the slightest, it just doesn’t work, mainly because there’s not even an attempt to balance them out.

Is it a particularly badly made film? No. Despite never getting a good balance on tone, I can’t say that Colin Trevorrow does a bad job directing. He sets up his shots well and he gets great performances out of his actors, as he’s proven before in the past with the aforementioned Safety Not Guaranteed and Jurassic World. This is actually a very nice-looking film with relatively strong cinematography courtesy of John Schwartzman, arguably one of the most underrated DPs working today. So it’s not exactly the fault of Trevorrow for how this turned out, even if he is admittedly partly to blame.

Gregg Hurwitz admitted in an interview that when he originally wrote this screenplay, he had no idea how the whole screenwriting process worked or what rules there were in regards to the art, and boy, does it really show here. Now breaking the rules isn’t at all a bad thing. In fact, I wish more films would do something like this, break all the rules, take risks, do something fresh, different, challenging, and new. It’s how Hurwitz and Trevorrow do it that’s the core problem here. I can’t deny that it’s ambitious but that can only get you so far. If you don’t have a balanced tone, compelling story, or believable characters to back up that originality and ambition, then it’s really not going to matter in the long run.

The actors are all trying really hard to make their characters authentic, but the script’s bizarreness makes it near impossible for them to do so. I mean, seriously. You have Henry (the 11-year-old title character) being in charge of the family finances (!) and making his family rich via the stock market (!!), you have Susan (the mother) giving the middle finger to her children at one point (!!!) and playing Gears of War (!!!!), you have Peter (the younger brother) telling Susan not to talk to him like a child (!!!!!), you have Sheila (Sarah Silverman) literally romantically kissing a dying little boy on the mouth (!!!!!!)... you just can’t make any of this up. All of it is in here.

These are just a few of several points where I seriously couldn't believe what I was watching, where I was staring at the screen utterly flabbergasted. The Book of Henry is a film that I would normally hate. I should hate this, despise it even. It's not a good film at all. I could even argue that the comparisons being made by several reviews to other trainwrecks like Collateral Beauty are very much understandable, justified even. But it's just so incredibly fascinating that I honestly can't bring myself to hate it. It really has to be seen to be believed. This is destined to god down in history as one of the most interesting bad films ever made.

FINAL SCORE: 5/10

The performances from all are excellent (everyone from Naomi Watts to Jaeden Lieberher to Jacob Tremblay to Maddie Ziegler, in her first role, is really, rea;;u good here) and it's most certainly not lacking in ambition, but Colin Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry is a film so fundamentally misguided, so flamboyantly jarring, and so unbelievably bonkers that it’s quite compelling but for all the wrong reasons. In fact, if we’re going to have bad films, I would prefer this kind of bad, because at least it’s an interesting kind of bad, the kind that bothers giving you something to think about.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight is a 2017 science fiction fantasy adventure action thriller war film directed by Michael Bay from a screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Ken Nolan, Lindsey Beer, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, based on Hasbro’s Transformers action figures, produced by Steven Spielberg, Brian Goldner, Mark Vahradian, Don Murphy, Tom Desanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and Ian Bryce, and starring Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Hopkins, John Turturro, Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael, Santiago Cabrera, Tony Hale, Gemma Chan, Peter Cullen, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Steve Buscemi, Mark Ryan, Reno Wilson, Tom Kenny, Frank Welker, Liam Garrigan, Mitch Pileggi, Glenn Morshower, Nicola Peltz, Minti Gorne, Omar Sy, Erik Aadahl, Jim Carter, John DiMaggio, Steven Barr, and Jess Harnell.

When all seems lost, a few brave souls can save everything we’ve ever known. The humans and the Transformers are at war while Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is gone, searching for his creators. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of the Transformers on the planet Earth. Saving our world falls upon the shoulders of human inventor and the titular last knight Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), the Autobot Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl), English astronomer Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), street-wise tomboy orphan Izabella (Isabela Moner), and Oxford English Literature Professor and Merlin’s last descendant Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock). There comes a moment in everyone’s life when we are called upon to make a difference. As the hunted will become heroes, heroes will become villains. When two worlds collide, only one will survive: theirs, or ours.

I acknowledge that I am a fan of the Transformers franchise. I loved the Generation 1 cartoon, I love the 1986 animated film, I love Transformers: Prime, I love the comics, and I even love some of the video games, like War fror Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron. Regarding the Michael Bay films, the first one is a grossly overpraised pile of tedious garbage, the second one had the worst humor in the franchise as well as a story that was literally made up as it went along, the third one is still the best and the only one of these films I can call good, and the fourth film is an overlong, mean-spirited dumpster fire. I didn’t think this franchise could’ve gotten worse than Age of Extinction, until I sat through this. Transformers: The Last Knight is not only the worst Transformers film, not only the worst film Michael Bay has ever directed, but it’s a film so bad, so boring, and so nonsensical that it made me pine and ache for the sweet, cold embrace of death.

The first, the biggest, and the most obvious problem is the story, or lack thereof such. To quote Linkara during his crossover review of Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark with Spoony and the Nostalgia Critic, “This movie has a talent for somehow having too much plot and yet no plot at all.” What this means is that everyone involved piles on more and more useless, tacked-on stuff into this bloated, overlong narrative to the point of making it so needlessly convoluted and nonsensical it’s downright impossible to comprehend and yet at the same time, when you really think, it’s incredibly simplistic and inane. The fact that it literally took an entire room of writers to come up with something this poorly thought out and executed boggles the mind.

There’s also the bizarre and nonsensical contradictions to earlier installments in the franchise. To point out all of them would take hours, so let’s focus on a couple huge ones. As Optimus searches for his creators, something eventually happens to him and he ends up on the planet Cybertron, his homeworld, even though it was destroyed in the first film and imploded in the third, rendering it again dead, and it turns out he’s responsible for its destruction, even though it was established that the war was responsible for the planet’s initial demise. But apparently Optimus is shocked at the planet’s destruction, despite what I already mentioned being previously established in other installments.

It gets better though. It also turns out that Unicron is Earth. No, I’m not making that up. Unicron is Earth and it’s so incredibly stupid it hurts. Granted this idea worked fine enough in Transformers: Prime, but the way it’s done here is moronic. They recycle Cybertron being transported into Earth’s Solar System from Dark of the Moon but they do it in a way that makes you question why all of these things are coming up now and haven’t come up before? Cybertron was right up in Earth's face in Dark of the Moon, but there were absolutely no signs of Unicron’s horns sprung up or Cybertronian Knight artifacts came out of the woodwork. Not even Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a Quintesson and one of the Transformers’ creators, came around. So why did all of this not happen the last time Cybertron was in Earth's atmosphere and why and how did nobody from the humans to the Transformers seem to have a clue?

Also, remember Galvatron from Age of Extinction? Well, he’s now Megatron again, with absolutely no explanation. Do you also remember Bumblebee getting his voice back in the first film yet it’s somehow gone in Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon, and Age of Extinction? Well, it comes back here, and I won’t be surprised if that scene where his voice comes back will be to 2017 what Martha from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was to 2016. But what’s odd is that it sounds different than what we heard in the first film and Optimus claims he hasn’t heard his voice since the war on Cybertron even though he heard him talking with his real voice at the end of the first film. It’s clear from these contradictions and continuity errors that Michael Bay clearly doesn’t care about this franchise anymore, so really, why should we?

Now onto the acting. The only performance that’s keeping this film from entering the point of no return is Anthony Hopkins. Granted, the only reason he’s in here is to be a vessel used to spew out constant exposition (and apparently, he’s a part of this clan called the Witwiccans, which also includes Shia LaBeouf from the first three films, I guess… I don’t know, it’s not explained well, but then again, nothing in this film is), but Hopkins is thankfully a seasoned professional and he at least looks like he’s having fun. Mark Wahlberg is a bit more likable here than he was in Age of Extinction but his character is still bland, Josh Duhamel and John Turturro are back as Lennox and Simmons (still absolutely no explanation for what happened to LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Frances McDormand, the roommate from Revenge of the Fallen, the parents, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci, Li Bingbing, or Sophia Myles for some odd reason), Isabela Moner’s character seems like she’ll be really important throughout but she’s abruptly gone until the very end (and of course, Bay’s camera still finds a way to leer at her despite both the actress and the character being minors… as I said in my Age of Extinction review, not even Frank Miller is that much of a pervert), and Laura Haddock is only in here to be eye candy (the film even acknowledges this) and Cade’s love interest. These are all talented people but they’re stuck playing terribly written characters you don’t care about in the slightest.

You know how the trailers teased Optimus Prime being turned all evil and such? Well, too bad, after Quintessa gets him under her control, he’s gone for an hour and a half before he comes back to the story when it requires him to, and all it takes, and I’m not joking here, is Bumblebee’s voice coming back for Prime to snap out of it and become good again. This makes Martha look dignified by comparison. Also, Hot Rod is in here but he acts absolutely nothing like Hot Rod from the cartoon, so why even bother calling him Hot Rod? You could’ve given him any other name and it would’ve been the exact same character. Nothing would change. There’s also literally a scene where Megatron negotiates a prisoner release with lawyers from the Pentagon (!) and lists Decepticons to be freed complete with Suicide Squad-style character title cards. Not only are some of these Decepticons annoying and offensive racial stereotypes, but they’re introduced and killed off in the next action sequence after lots of talking.

They also try to do what the previous three films did by connecting the Transformers lore and mythology with human history. We have Transformers fighting with King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, we have them being responsible for Hitler’s death, we have Harriet Tubman being a keeper of them, we have the Transformers fighting in the American Civil War and World War I, we have Leonardo Da Vinci being a Pretender Transformer… you think this crazy stuff couldn’t possibly be in here, but it is, and you’d think the craziness of it all would be entertaining, but it’s not. The film also expects you to believe that all of this was kept secret until the city battle climax of the first film. It’s really that dumb and seriously that insulting to the audience’s intelligence. Trying to make sense of this jumbled mess of a plot is utterly headache-inducing.

Of course, you can’t have a Michael Bay-directed Transformers film without obnoxious, unfunny, cringe-inducing, makes-you-want-to-die-a-slow-and-painful-death comic relief. Like I mentioned before, the sex jokes and racial stereotypes are still in here and they’re just as agonizing as ever. What will it take for Michael Bay, the producers, and these writers to realize that jokes and comic relief like these don’t work in a film like this. The dialogue is so painful to get through, not just because some of these lines are truly abysmally ridiculous and ridiculously abysmal, but because most of it is constant expositoy jargon. It’s ungodly boring and it makes the overlong 149 minute long running time feel even longer.

As for the technical aspects, my feelings on them are just the same as my feelings on the other films. Yes, the special visual effects and animation work by Industrial Light & Magic is still impressive, and yes, the action sequences can be fun and are admittedly very well put-together, and yes, the music by Steve Jablonsky is still well-done. But you can say the exact same for the effects, action, and music in the other four installments so there’s really not much to talk about in that department. Jonathan Sela of John Wick fame takes over as director of photography, and while there are some very nice-looking shots, I’m hesitant to call this a visually pleasing experience, because of Bay and Sela’s insistence of switching the aspect ratio in literally every single moment. It’s jarring and obnoxious, and it makes me pine for Amir Mokri. This film has a total of, and I’m not kidding, six credited editors. That, along with the fact that this was written by seven people (three of them going uncredited), really shows.

FINAL SCORE: 1/10

An absolutely insufferable onslaught of utterly incomprehensible plotting, terrible characters, horrendous pacing, pointless exposition, and cringe-inducing humor, Transformers: The Last Knight not only tops Age of Extinction as the worst installment in the Transformers franchise by far but also somehow surpasses Pearl Harbor as director Michael Bay’s worst film to date. I’m literally stunned by how awful this was. The fact that this is currently looking to be a huge flop at the domestic box office gives me hope for the future of humankind. Then again, I probably shouldn’t be too excited because most likely, the people of China will make this a massive hit again. I hope Michael Bay really is telling the truth when he says this is his last Transformers film because I’m getting so sick and tired of seeing him care so little about this property that could work wonders on the big screen with the right people behind it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Mummy (2017) Movie Review

The Mummy is a 2017 supernatural fantasy adventure action thriller horror film directed by Alex Kurtzman from a screenplay co-written with Jon Spaihts, Jenny Lumet, David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman, produced by Jeb Brody, Roberto Orci, Bobby Cohen, Chris Morgan, Sean Daniel, and Sarah Bradshaw, and starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Javier Botet, Marwan Kanzari, Selva Rasalingam, Dylan Smith, Rez Kempton, and Chasty Ballesteros.

Though safely entombed in a crypt deep beneath the unforgiving desert, the ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), whose destiny was unjustly taken from her, is awakened in our current day bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension. Soldier of fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) must now stop the resurrected Ahmanet as she embarks on a furious rampage through the streets of London, England.

Years ago, Universal originally had plans for a fourth entry in the Mummy series after The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor but eventually they decided to scrap them. They then had another idea, that of a shared universe revolving around their monster characters. Originally, they tried this with Van Helsing, but that didn’t work. They tried again with The Wolfman, but that didn’t work. They tried another time with Dracula Untold, but that didn’t work. Now, they’re trying a fourth time with The Mummy, another reboot of the franchise and the first installment in the Dark Universe. Judging from how this is doing critically and commercially, it looks like the Dark Universe is a no-go, and thank God for that.

For starters, the characters are absolutely terrible. Tom Cruise is horribly miscast as Nick Morton, who was clearly written with more of a Chris Pratt/Bradley Cooper-type in mind. It doesn’t help that Morton is completely unlikable and at the same time terribly stale throughout the entire film yet we’re supposed to care about him. Cruise isn’t a stranger to playing these types of characters as he’s played an unlikable person before in Edge of Tomorrow. However, in that film, it worked because Cruise’s character actually had growth and went through a genuine arc. Here, they try to give him character growth but it’s so poorly handled and so half-assed.

Annabelle Wallis does the best she can as the female lead, Jenny Halsey, but she’s merely a device used to spew out constant and pointless exposition. It also doesn’t help that she’s one of the most forgettable and completely useless female leads in, quite honestly, the history of cinema. This is especially insulting when you take into account when just one week ago, Wonder Woman was released. Jake Johnson plays Morton’s partner Chris Vail, who serves as comic relief. I didn’t laugh. Not even once. Johnson, who I normally like in other things, is unbelievably annoying here and it doesn’t help that his character ends up becoming a complete rip-off of Jack from An American Werewolf in London. John Landis should take legal action against the writers, that’s how much this character rips off that film.

Sofia Boutella plays the Mummy of the film’s title and to be fair, she does a great job playing the character. Unfortunately, the character is written horribly. This character does evil things just because she’s evil and nothing else. Her backstory that explains she joined forces with Set because her parents had another child, so that child’s going to claim the throne and not her, makes her look incredibly petty and pathetic. There are no redeeming qualities to Ahmanet, not one. Seeing as she's the villain, this normally wouldn't bother me but this film has the sheer audacity to try and make this character sympathetic halfway through. Dr. Edward Jekyll, the head of the mysterious monster-hunting secret organization Prodigium (basically the Dark Universe variant of S.H.I.E.L.D.), says he's going to kill her and dissect her but everyone else is against this. It doesn’t work at all.

I hate to make comparisons to other versions because this is a new take on the character, but let’s compare this character to Imhotep from the first two Mummy films directed by Stephen Sommers. Imhotep was still evil but everything he did, he did for Anck-Su-Namun, the woman he loved. He killed for her. He himself was killed because he loved her. She is all he wants in both The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. When she abandons him in The Mummy Returns, he kills himself and throws himself into the underworld because he feels he has nothing to live for anymore. So even though you’re not rooting for him to win at all, you can still feel some amount of remorse and sympathy for him, despite the evil things he does. Is there any of that for Ahmanet in this version? No. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde in this film and he does give the best and most entertaining performance in the film, but that doesn’t fix the problem that this character and Prodigium are just pointless shoehorned-in elements that feel tacked-on. Like Jenny, he’s also just there to spew out painful expository dialogue, but there’s more, he’s also there for the plot to stop dead in its tracks for long stretches of time to remind us very annoyingly that there are more of these Dark Universe films coming out soon. This makes the e-mail sequence from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice look subtle and dignified by comparison. It’s also because of this that this film whose name is The Mummy makes the title character called The Mummy merely nothing more than a pawn. That is absolutely insulting.

As far as the action sequences, all I can say is that they’re at least competently put together but overall, it’s just uninspired, and not helping matters is the fact that some parts of the action are just callbacks to the Stephen Sommers films that make me wish I was watching the Sommers films instead, even The Mummy Returns with its terrible CGI and Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with Rob Cohen replacing Sommers in the director’s chair and Maria Bello serving as a poor substitute for Rachel Weisz. The most entertaining action sequence has to be the airplane scene, but it was mostly given away in the trailers.

As far as technical aspects are concerned, director Alex Kurtzman and cinematographer Ben Seresin do manage to create a relatively nice-looking film that looks, for the most part, expensive. The production designs by Jon Hutman and Dominic Watkins are equally impressive. Regarding the CGI, some parts actually look quite good while others look incredibly fake and obvious, but overall, there’s way too much of it for me to be immersed into the experience. The film’s attempts to be scary are just painful. Instead of utilizing these little things like say, tension, suspense, or atmosphere, Kurtzman instead relies on cheap, loud jump scares, the most lazy and generic way of getting your audience to be startled.

FINAL SCORE: 2/10

Look, I knew this wasn’t going to be very good, but I had no idea it would be this bad. This film has six credited writers and three credited editors, and that really shows here. Failing hard as another reboot of the classic title monster, as the start of a new cinematic universe, and as a standalone action horror blockbuster, The Mummy is an absolute trainwreck that’s laden with thin and nonsensical plotting, constant and annoying franchise set-ups, pointless exposition, obnoxious jump scares, awful jokes, uninspired action and direction, CGI overload, and terrible characters.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) Movie Review

Wonder Woman is a 2017 science fiction superhero fantasy adventure action war thriller film directed by Patty Jenkins from a screenplay by Jason Fuchs and Allan Heinberg, produced by Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Charles Roven, Rebecca Steel Roven, Richard Suckle, Geoff Johns, Jon Berg, Wesley Coller, and Stephen Jones, based on characters created by William Moulton Marston and originally appearing in comic books published by DC Entertainment, and starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Mayling Ng, Florence Kasumba, Madeleine Vall Beijner, Ann Wolfe, Doutzen Kroes, Samantha Jo, Lilly Aspell, and Emily Carey.

Before she was Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on Themyscira, a sheltered island paradise on Earth, Diana meets American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who tells her about the massive conflict that's raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time. Fighting alongside men in World War I, the war to end all wars, she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny.

A Wonder Woman film had been in development hell for over twenty years, with several writers and directors, including Ivan Reitman of all people, going back and forth on the project. The closest we came to progress was when Joss Whedon was attached back in 2005 but left due to creative differences and the lack of a finished script. When it was revealed years later what Whedon’s version would’ve been like, it’s safe to say we all dodged a bullet, although I still love Whedon. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice kickstarting a cinematic universe for DC a la Marvel, Wonder Woman made her live-action cinematic debut in that film and a solo film was finally being made after all these years, with development for the project officially beginning in late 2015. I’m so happy as a fan to report that not only is Wonder Woman better than expected but also the champion of the DC Extended Universe.

I absolutely adored Gal Gadot here. She made a great first impression in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and she’s utterly amazing here. She’s everything you could ever ask for in an actress cast as Wonder Woman: she’s hopeful, she’s capable, she’s loving, she’s strong, she’s beautiful, she’s sexy, she’s charming, she fights for those who can’t fight for themselves, et cetera. She gets everything about her character down to a tee, from her naivete to her compassion to her strength to her childlike optimism, and she completely embodies the role. She doesn’t just play Wonder Woman, she is Wonder Woman.

Gadot shines a lot during the action sequences, especially the unforgettable No Man’s Land set piece, but I also thought she was fantastic during the more dramatic parts and even better during the more humorous parts. I didn't expect the film to be this funny. Her comedic timing is spot-on, the humor comes very naturally, and I loved her relationship with Steve Trevor, the audience surrogate, played excellently by the always great Chris Pine. Pine and Gadot have wonderful chemistry with one another so you really buy the bond they end up sharing with each other and get invested in their interactions with one another. Their relationship really adds a lot of humanity and genuine heart to the film. I loved the part where Steve teaches her how to eat ice cream, something that’s completely strange and foreign to someone like Diana.

The supporting cast is also wonderful. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are both great as Hippolyta and Antiope, sisters who are also the two maternal figures of Diana’s life and the two people who are responsible for how Diana is the way she is, with the former teaching her about love and compassion and the latter training her to become a fierce, strong warrior. Lucy Davis is hilarious as Steve’s secretary Etta Candy and she and Gadot play very well off each other in their scenes together. Ewen Bremner, Said Taghmaoui, and Eugene Brave Rock are also solid as allies of Steve during the war, especially Bremner, who’s also hilarious.

Even the villains I found myself enjoying. Danny Huston was awesome as German Army General Erich Ludendorff and you can tell he was having the time of his life playing him. The reveal of the god of war and the title character’s most famous antagonist in the source material, Ares, played by the always terrific David Thewlis, I felt was very well-thought out. My favorite of the villains, however, has to be Doctor Poison. Elena Anaya does a great job playing her and she's also the most interesting of the three. Yes, this is a film with three villains and yet it handles all of them skillfully and it helps that they're all connected to the story and don't feel random or tacked-on. They serve their purpose to what’s going on very well.

Patty Jenkins, who previously helmed the 2003 independent true crime drama Monster, which won Charlize Theron an Academy Award for Best Actress, directs the film with the utmost care, delicacy, and precision. You can tell she's really passionate about the character and the DC universe in general and it shows in how she directs the film. She presents a colorful superhero film that's full of hope, heart, and optimism yet isn't afraid to be serious, even downright dark, when it needs to be. This is a very beautiful-looking film too. The cinematography by Chronicle and Fantastic Four D.P. Matthew Jensen looks stunning, with wonderful use of colors and great camerawork and lighting. I also loved how Jenkins, Jensen, and production designer Aline Bonetto contrast the island of Themyscira with World War I-era London, England, the former being bright, lush, and breathtaking to witness and the latter drab, murky, and war-torn.

The special visual effects and animation courtesy of Bill Westenhofer of Warcraft fame admittedly aren't perfect, and the overload of it in the climactic battle between Wonder Woman and Ares is a bit reminiscent of the final Doomsday battle in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the film was so good that it didn't completely take me out of the experience and a lot of visuals and effects themselves are quite dazzling. The action sequences are all memorable, pulse-pounding, and ridiculously exciting, with excellent choreography and great use of slow-motion. I won't be surprised if the aforementioned No Man's Land sequence will later go down in history as one of the all-time great comic book film set pieces.

The music in the film is also wonderful throughout. Yes, the Wonder Woman theme introduced in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by composers Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) comes back here and it’s just as awesome as ever. The original score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is equally phenomenal. It’s as beautiful as it is epic, tragic as it is haunting, exhilarating as it is blissful. With this, Winter’s Tale, The Legend of Tarzan, and Hacksaw Ridge, Gregson-Williams is better sticking with these types of films as opposed to wasting his time, effort, and career scoring cheap and awful Adam Sandler comedies. The editing by Martin Walsh also keeps the film moving at a great pace, making the film’s two hour and twenty-one minute runtime feel like an overall breeze.

FINAL SCORE: 10/10

Topping Man of Steel as the champion of the DC Extended Universe, Wonder Woman, like The LEGO Batman Movie, Logan, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 before it, is more proof that 2017 is looking to be one of the best years for superhero films in a long time, with dazzling visual effects, memorable and pulse-pounding action sequences, gorgeous cinematography, excellent set designs, fantastic performances, beautifully written and developed characters, strong storytelling, dynamic direction from Patty Jenkins, a terrific musical score, and a great deal of heart. I am so happy to see this turn out so well. I’m very much looking forward to the sequel, especially with Patty Jenkins coming back to the director’s chair, and I hope this paves the way for female-directed summer blockbusters and superhero films to come. This is one of my new all-time favorite comic book films.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is a 2017 science fiction superhero space opera fantasy adventure action comedy film written and directed by James Gunn, produced by Kevin Feige, Stan Lee, David J. Grant, Lars P. Winther, Nikolas Korda, Jonathan Schwartz, Victoria Alonso, and Louis D’Esposito, based on characters created by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Gene Colan, and Arnold Drake, and starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Laura Haddock, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, Miley Cyrus, Michael Rosenbaum, Seth Green, and David Hasselhoff.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, including Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), are hired by a powerful alien race known as the Sovereign, led by the High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket and Drax have stolen the items they were sent to guard, the Sovereign dispatch their armada to search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, Peter discovers his long-lost father, Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell).

In 2014, everybody thought Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be the first real flop of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and when you really thought about it, it wasn’t hard to see why. Hardly anybody had heard of the characters (aside from maybe Thanos) or the comics that they originated from. Not to mention, the film’s writer and director James Gunn doesn’t have the best track record. However, when the film came out, it turned out a surprise critical and commercial success. The first film actually became one of my all-time favorite comic book films. I never would’ve anticipated that a film as zany and offbeat as Guardians of the Galaxy would be so heartfelt. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 manages to be even better than the first in almost every aspect. It also managed to surpass Captain America: Civil War as my favorite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 has to be my favorite MCU film not just because it actually feels like James Gunn's real vision being allowed to fully shine through (although that certainly helps and I enjoyed most of the other MCU films despite directors on those not having much control), but also because of how Gunn is able to tackle all of these multiple different characters and give so much depth and weight to them, even Ego, the main villain, surprisingly (probably the MCU's best film villain, even better than Ultron), as well as expand on the characters people knew and loved from the original and strengthen their relationships, like the relationship between Gamora and Nebula and the one between Peter and Yondu. Each character is explored and defined for who they really are. It's so great to have superhero films like this and Logan have such a deep, strong focus on character, although two are completely different works.

I also loved how perfectly this balances humor and emotion. The jokes in this are absolutely hilarious, even the more crass ones, and yet even when they come after more dramatic and heartfelt moments, they don't undercut them or take away their impact. They come very naturally. Speaking of natural, I also thought the story flowed very naturally and fluidly. Before you know it, it just basically happens. Sure, it could be a bit meandering, but it's so well-thought out and perfectly executed that I could completely let that slide. You can tell from watching the comfort and confidence Gunn exudes through how he writes these characters and directs everything from the action to the comedy to the drama.

Speaking of comfort, you can really tell how much of a blast the actors are playing these characters, especially Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, and Dave Bautista. They're just so comfortable playing these roles and they play them all so well they practically embody them. The performances are all great throughout. I thought Chris Pratt was especially fantastic during the more dramatic moments, like his scene with Ego where they discuss Peter Quill's mother Meredith and why Ego had to leave as well as the pain Quill felt when he had to watch his mother die in front of him. The two’s relationship is one of the best parts of the film. New additions like Russell, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, and Sylvester Stallone are also great. Stallone, in particular, has a great dramatic moment with Yondu.

The technical aspects of this film are nothing short of flawless. The cinematography by Henry Braham, who replaces Ben Davis for this entry, is stunningly gorgeous. It looks breathtaking throughout, from the brilliant use of glowing and radiant colors to the shot composition to the camerawork to the lighting. It’s a beautiful film. The effects are also superb. The blend of practical special effects and CGI mesh together seamlessly and a lot of the visuals are incredibly unique, creative, and imaginative, even downright trippy at points. Definitely one of the most visually inventive of the MCU, right next Doctor Strange and Ant-Man. Scott Chambliss’ production designs are also fantastic. I especially loved Ego’s Planet.

The editing by Fred Raskin, Craig Wood, and Kathryn Himoff is also great, keeping the film moving at a great pace. It moves at a runtime of 2 hours and 18 minutes, even longer than the first film, and yet it never feels that long. Tyler Bates once again provides a solid score and the soundtrack, like the first film, is phenomenal, with classic tunes like Mr. Blue Sky, The Chain, Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang, and Flash Light among others. What makes the soundtrack so good, like the first film, is that all the songs fit the scenarios and strengthen the scenes during which they’re playing, unlike a certain other recent comic book film revolving a ragtag team of people who have to come together to fight a huge threat.

FINAL SCORE: 10/10

Somehow managing to top its predecessor, James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 has also managed to become my favorite installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with naturally flowing storytelling, fun characters, superb character development, a wonderful balance between witty irreverent humor and genuine emotion, fantastic performances, dazzling visual effects, dynamic action sequences, and a great deal of heart. I’m so looking forward to how these characters interact with the Avengers in Infinity War and I’m also hyped for Vol. 3.

Alien: Covenant (2017) Movie Review

Alien: Covenant is a 2017 science fiction action thriller horror film directed by Ridley Scott from a screenplay by Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan, and Dante Harper, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, Jon Spaihts, and Damon Lindelof, produced by Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, David Giler, and Walter Hill, and starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, James Franco, Noomi Rapace, Guy Pearce, Callie Hernandez, Jussie Smollett, Javier Botet, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby, Tess Haubrich, Uli Latukefu, and Goran D. Kleut.

Bound for Origae-6, a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant, which consists mainly of couples and includes Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android similar to David, the lone survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition, find what they believe to be an uncharted paradise. It’s soon revealed that the path to paradise begins in hell as the planet turns out to be a dark and dangerous world inhabited by the original David and monstrous creatures that start to hunt them.

After Prometheus turned out to be a disappointment for many fans, Ridley Scott promised them that sequels to it will indeed tie into the original and will include the Xenomorphs that were absent from the film. Enter Alien: Covenant, intended to be the first in a new trilogy of films that take place after Prometheus but will lead into where Alien began. Although the trailers made the film more like a generic slasher film (although not on the level of Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) than a proper Alien film (or a Prometheus sequel, for that matter), fans were hoping Covenant would improve upon Prometheus. If I’m being honest, it’s not better or worse. For every one thing it does just as good or even better than Prometheus, it does another thing just as bad or even worse than Prometheus.

First things first, just like Prometheus, Ridley Scott proves himself yet again to be one of the best visual artists working today. Even though this is a horror film with constant violence, death, gore, and destruction, this is a beautiful-looking film with Dariusz Wolski once again providing gorgeous cinematography throughout. Chris Seagers replaces Arthur Max as production designer and Seagers does an impressive job with the sets and locations.

The effects in the film are also quite impressive. This is probably the goriest film Ridley Scott has ever made in his long career, and I will say that the gore looks fantastic. There’s a lot of the red stuff for hardcore gorehounds to cheer at and the effects for all the brutal killings are great. However, unlike something like Logan, it feels like gore merely for the sake of it. As I said, there is a lot of it and the camera often lingers on the gruesomeness of it all, and those scenes are admittedly kind of thrilling, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a purpose to it. The practical effects, like in Prometheus, look great, but when it’s CGI, it sadly looks obvious, artificially smooth, and rubbery.

The musical score by Jed Kurzel is fine, but it doesn’t compare to Marc Streitenfeld’s excellent work on Prometheus. I wish they stuck with Harry Gregson-Williams, who was the original composer before he unfortunately left and also provided additional music for Prometheus. Don’t get me wrong, Kurzel’s score isn’t bad in the slightest and he’s proven himself to be a good composer in the past, but if Gregson-Williams was still onboard, we would’ve gotten something much more haunting and memorable.

The acting in the film is good. Michael Fassbender once again plays David, but also plays another android Walter (I’m surprised no one noticed this nod to producers David Giler and Walter Hill), and he’s amazing as always. The direction they took David’s character following Prometheus is something I didn’t expect but I thought was pretty cool, even if it does lead to my biggest issue with the film. Fassbender also does a fine job as Walter, the most interesting character in the film after David.

The always delightful Katherine Waterston plays Daniels, widow of the ship’s captain and our new Ripley clone (not a literal one, like the mess that is Alien: Resurrection). While Waterston does a good job with what she’s given and has some good moments here and there, her character is unfortunately quite forgettable. Danny McBride plays Tennessee and I thought he was really good. It surprised me to see someone like McBride give a straight dramatic performance in this type of film but I thought he was really solid and he has one of the better characters in the film. Supporting players like Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir, and Carmen Ejogo also do fine, even if their characters are lacking.

Yes, unfortunately, Alien: Covenant doesn’t improve upon the mediocre characterization from Prometheus. Here, the characterization isn’t so much crude as it is as thin as a wafer, so when they get killed, you aren’t really attached to them, which takes away from any possible suspense. I would actually argue Prometheus has better characterization than this film, because that at least bothered to establish its characters properlu. And yes, like Prometheus, they don’t make the smartest of decisions. By the way, if you’re expecting those online prologue clips to be in here, prepare for disappointment.

Despite being a gorefest, the film is oddly ambitious for such. Like Prometheus, it tackles a lot of good and very interesting ideas like creator versus created (something that Scott had already tackled thirty-five years ago in Blade Runner), and while they’re better fleshed out than those in Prometheus, they’re again not fleshed out enough to be considered themes, no matter how thought-provoking they admittedly are. And yes, again, like Prometheus (I hate to be a broken record, but seriously), the lack of solid answers to the questions it raises is a bummer.

Now here’s my biggest issue (this is a massive spoiler, so if you haven’t seen this film or Prometheus, stop reading the review right here, watch them if you have the time, and then come back). Remember how the original teased at its end Elizabeth Shaw journeying with David to find the Engineers and find out why they turned against their creation? It was all for nothing. No, really. David literally wipes out the entire Engineer population, kills Shaw, and becomes the android equivalent of Dr. Moreau. It’s a cool direction to take David’s character in, but it’s such a middle finger to those who wanted answers. To introduce the creators of humankind, show that they’ve turned against us, and then flat-out refuse to tell us why they turned against us is just so insulting.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

A very rare follow-up that’s both better and worse than its predecessor (if that makes any sense), Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant is a heavily flawed but overall mildly entertaining and occasionally thrilling greatest hits package of Alien and Prometheus, delivering on beautifully crafted visuals, fine performances, mostly solid effects, and interesting ideas, but sorely lacking in strong characterization and compelling answers to the questions its raises. I just hope Scott does a better job with the following films, and if he doesn’t, I’m going to be even more angry that Neill Blomkamp’s Aliens sequel was cancelled.