Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

I’ve never called out someone else’s review in one of my reviews before. It’s tacky and pointless, but when you’re the only quote on the movie box, and you’ve dubbed this movie, “One of the coolest superhero movies of the decade”; I have to wonder what fucking movie you watched. To quickly sum up what you can expect from this film: everything Bryan Singer has ever done in an X-Men movie. The buildup is the same, the pacing the same. The really bad attempts at comedy… sadly still there.

Here’s how it goes: He builds up the threat of the villain. He also uses this moment to explain why Apocalypse hasn’t been around. He’s been buried, and no sunlight has hit him. After the villain moment, we check in with our main characters that have all been scattered. Magneto has a family, Mystique is saving mutants, Charles is running a big ass school. Apocalypse is woken up by Moria who returns in this film; she lets the sun in and this finishes whatever stupid excuse of a transfer Apocalypse was doing.

xmenapocalypse_bd_ocard_spine_rgbLet’s pause and talk about his powers. He can transfer his mind to other bodies. In that body, he then takes that power and all powers transfer with him. Some real bullshit. Of the powers he has, healing factor, some shit with sand and either turning off or turning up a mutant’s powers. Though don’t focus on the “turning off” part because that only happens once and then he forgets he can do it. Wait, wait… at the end he makes fire. If it’s convenient to the story, he can do it.

We do another round of “who’s that character” as we meet the new/young versions of the old X-Men characters. Apparently, Cyclops is a risk taking dickhead now.

Magneto’s family gets killed because he saves a human’s life, this makes him go a bit crazy, and the world starts looking for him again. Interestingly enough, the even from Days of Future Past is brought up, but not show. I say that because Singer uses clips from First Class more than a couple of times towards the end.

Apocalypse lives, he finds Storm. She gets to talk for one of her two scenes. They somehow find Caliban who is nothing like the comic character. He’s also in a completely different country, but Storm knows about him somehow. They pick up Psylocke, who gets one of her two speaking appearances as well and head off to find Angel. Etc, etc., they get Magneto.

Stuff happens. Xavier is kidnapped. The main characters are all kidnapped, and we watch a long helicopter scene showing them going into Canada to connect the old X-Men movies and the Wolverine movies. Blah, blah, X-Men save Xavier and we tease the Phoenix yet again.

It should be pointed out that Magneto more than likely kills hundreds of thousands, if not more, of innocent people around the globe simultaneously. No one bats an eye and Xavier welcomes him with open arms. There’s even a news blurb saying he helped defeat the bad guy… even though the bad guy was just trying to get mind powers while Magneto destroyed the planet. The thing that annoys me is that since First Class everyone has had a hard-on for Fassbender and so now we have to try and redeem Magneto rather than just have him be a fucking villain. It’s sadly the same in the comics. Yes, he’s a cool character, but that doesn’t mean he gets to be protected when he does evil shit.

Aside from the fact that there’s no consequences to the film's actions, my biggest problem was all the terribly fitting dialogue that tied into removed scenes. “I want to go to the Mall.” And then we see them coming out of a movie theater having watched Return of the Jedi and making a meta-joke about how the third one always sucks. Way to make sure that happened Singer.

Slow clap for Bryan Singer.

There’s a ton of examples throughout the movie, but I’m just going to tell you one and co-credit this part to Patrick Larose as well since he was thinking the same thing. At the end, Storm walks up to Quicksilver and says, “So he’s your dad? You gonna tell him?” and when there’s a pause of “how did you fucking know that?” she adds, “Mystique told me.”


No, seriously what?


Why would anyone share such deep and personal information to someone they were fighting two fucking minutes ago!?! They shared a plane ride together, and now Storm is just like, “Hey fast dude, is that your dad? What do you think about all the people he killed? My friends included, even though we never saw them again, but they were ground zero when he made a big fucking pyramid.”

There’s no heart to this film. Xavier gives Moria her memories back, and she doesn’t slap him. If someone takes your fucking memories, you fucking slap them when you get them back because that is some evil fucked up shit.

That brings me to why Singer references First Class so much in this film. He piggybacks on a lot of the groundwork done in that film, and it’s all the emotion moments because he doesn’t know how to make those as a writer or director. There’s no heartfelt moments here. You don’t pity or feel for any of the characters. Even when the other mutants are calling Jean Grey a freak, you don’t care because he squashes it with dialogue from Cyclops about him feeling sorry for himself. Even Quicksilver debating about telling Magneto he’s his father is completely drained of emotion because Singer can’t bring out an emotion performance for Evans.

This film is in love with its destruction. It’s in love with the improved computer graphics. It’s in love with the big name stars attached to it. The problem is, it’s forgotten how to tell a compelling story and with all the other superhero movies out there, it’s not exactly breaking in new stars either. It’s unfortunately just a formula film from a director that was never that great at the formula and has taken sixteen years too perfect. Meanwhile, we’ve all moved on. No one wants to see your slightly better than X-Men movie, because, like that film, the graphics weren’t the problem.

Before I close out, I want to mention the special features which included a PSA about smoking. That is exactly as it sounds, not something related to the X-Men in the least bit. The gag reel wasn't funny. It was people having fun at work, but not funny. It's 8 minutes long and you can probably watch it on YouTube so just do that. As for the rest of the "X-tras" (get it?), they are worthless as all other home release extras so don't bother.

I only watched this because it was given to me for review. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have watched it. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had turned it down because it didn’t even look like the X-Men up on the screen to me. It was just big name actors and bad cosplay with a lot of computer graphics laid out to look like a movie. It’s not, though. It’s just a series of events happening. It’s a franchise that’s more interested in teasing elements of one of Marvel’s deepest wells; then it is actually telling the stories that make that well worth going to. Hopefully, this shit will get another reboot, but if Singer is attached in any way, shape or form, I won’t even bother.

Not only is this not one of the coolest superhero movies of the decade, but it's also hands down the worst superhero movie I’ve seen since X-Men Days of Future Past.

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X-Men: Apocalypse Director (if you can call it directing): Bryan Singer Writers: Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris Studio: Fox Run Time: 144 min


Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

Nearly nine months into 2016, and I can name like six movies I have enjoyed. Mercifully, Kubo and the Two Strings makes it seven. If you must blink, do it now.

This is Laika Entertainment’s fourth stop-motion animated feature (after Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls), so how does it rank? Well it’s certainly better than The Boxtrolls, though admittedly I can’t give a fair judgement of Boxtrolls because I nearly got into my first fist fight as an adult because of it (don’t bring toys for your dumb kids to play in the aisles with to a movie, and don’t start shouting in someone’s face when you get called out for being inconsiderate). But I digress.

Kubo is an adventure movie through and through; an eleven-year-old boy must recover an unbreakable sword, an impenetrable breastplate, and an invulnerable helmet, with the help of a talking monkey and a samurai beetle-man. Standard stuff, right? Well yeah, kinda. The story is your conventional hero’s journey with a couple of artistic flourishes here and there. I can’t fault the film too much for just telling a simple story, but Laika did give us Coraline and Paranorman (Coraline being a masterwork, and Paranorman being a worthy follow-up), so the standards are higher. But this is also the year of The Secret Life of Pets, Norm of the North, and The goddamn Angry Birds Movie; the saying goes “After you hit yourself with two hammers every day, getting hit by just one hammer feels good” and this is just a teeny tiny for-cracking-hardboiled-eggs hammer. It’s such a minor quibble.

Kubo and the Two StringsStorytelling and music are a big motif of the film, with Kubo and his mother using a shamisen (thank you, Google) as a magical weapon and for Kubo to control his origami creations. There’s a wonderful sequence at the beginning of the film where Kubo plays his shamisen and tells stories of his dead dad in the village. Hey, a story about storytelling, and it never really gets meta with it, which is nice. I think the monkey makes one out-of-character crack about an origami samurai “looking like scissors were involved” and that’s about it.

Let’s talk the voice cast for a minute; this is one of the few aspects of the film that is hit-and-miss. First, a hit, Matthew McConaughey – he really is the most charming man on the planet. McConaughey plays a manic amnesiac samurai/beetleborg, simply named Beetle, his only vague memory being that he must’ve served Kubo’s father. There’s an ethereal quality to a performance when an actor really enjoys their role, and ho boy did he clearly have a good time; it’s unlike anything I’ve seen him do. The best way I can describe his character is a combination of Jack Sparrow and Dug the dog from Up. Yeah. That beautiful velvety-voiced man. The McConaissance continues.

A miss for the cast is Charlize Theron as Kubo’s guardian, a monkey named Monkey; which is a shame, she’s a good actress, but she doesn’t bring much to a motherly straight-man role. (Insert the picture of Charlize dragging her kid out of her car that went around the gossip circle a few months ago) It reminds me a lot of Meryl Streep’s underwhelming vocal performance in Fantastic Mr. Fox. She’s unusually flat and to use an acting term, she mostly spends the movie indicating her emotions as opposed to actually feeling them. Some people just aren’t meant to stand in a dimly-lit sound-booth alone and just act, which I think is the case here.

Another sort-of-miss is the Three-String Samurai himself, Kubo, voiced by Art Parkinson (Rickon Stark from Game of Thrones… yeah). Clearly, someone at Laika is a big fan of Game of Thrones because this is the second Stark child cast as the lead in one of their movies (Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Bran Stark, voiced the main character in The Boxtrolls). But y’know that show has bad actors too, right? *cough* Emilia Clark & Sophie Turner *cough*.  He’s serviceable as the hero child, but only just, good child actors are hard enough to find – good child voice actors are nearly impossible.

An awesome surprise is Rooney Mara, voicing the spooky specter women in pursuit of Kubo. This goes back to how Matthew McConaughey clearly relished his role, and Rooney just went for it. I can imagine she looked at the script and thought “Wait, I get to cackle fiendishly? Oh hell yeah!”

The last two name actors are Ralph Fiennes as Kubo’s malevolent grandfather the Moon King, and George Takei as Featured Extra #2. Both are criminally underused; Fiennes is more limited by being the final boss character; but Takei, also the largest role voiced by an Asian actor, has about three lines – one of which is obviously “Oh myyyy.” Question: Does this film count as white-washing? It’s certainly a murky topic to begin with, and further complicated by this being an animated movie. But then again, I guess wouldn’t every English Dub of an Anime count as white-washing? I’m not ready to make a judgment here. Just something to think about.

** I should also mention that the design work from Laika is as spot on as always. I adore their use of UV/Blacklight effects, it's a brilliant visual that I don't think we get to see in other films, nor should we, it's that special Laika touchstone. The actual visual from the trailers that mentally sold my ticket was of Kubo's 'Aunts' floating across a river, those haunting geisha-masked women are probably some of the most evocative and memorable character designs I've seen this year. The only things even worth mentioning negatively are a sailboat Kubo composes from leaves, the idea behind it is solid, it just has a muddy color palette; and then the final monster looks a bit too much like the Leviathans in The Avengers. Again, teeny tiny egg-cracking hammer.

Man, stop-motion animation is beautiful, amiright?  The work Laika is doing visually is truly inspiring at times; as part of the end credits – they show you the animation of the giant skeleton monster, and it’s not just huge in the context of the film, that puppet is easily ten feet tall. Showing behind the curtain like that has to make you want to bust out your camera and try a little animation yourself. It’s such a crime that stop-motion animation seems to always stall out with unappreciative kids, why do movies from Laika or Aardman Animations (the Wallace and Gromit people) always lose out to Dreamworks or Blue Sky? Take your kids to see these movies (just don’t drag them out to evening shows, those are for people who want to actually enjoy the goddamn movie). We gotta get them hooked; we can’t let them be the generation that ends smoking stop-motion animation.

If you have even the slightest inkling to see Kubo and the Two Strings, get out there and see it. Support your local major motion picture. In a year of garbage movie after garbage movie, you can do so much worse. Maybe you’ll even get to have a good time.

For the love of God, don’t choose to see Sausage Party over this.

Also stay for the end credits, there’s a nice cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Regina Spektor; and also stay because that crew killed themselves making this movie for you.

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Kubo and the Two Strings Director: Travis Knight Writers: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler Distributor: Laika Entertainment/Focus Features Rating: PG Run Time: 101 Min


Two Reviews: Suicide Squad (2 of 2)

Suicide Squad enters the third installment of the DC Extended Universe. It tells the story of a group of criminals forced together to save the world from an ancient threat. By now, most people have heard a lot from both sides on the film quality, so here’s the next drop in the ocean. My take away from this film is, while there are pacing and editing issues present, they aren’t nearly as glaring as they were with Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. What I’m beginning to think is that these problems are going to be consistent across the board until we get to a point where there are less visions flashbacks. These tend to be the more jarring suicidesquad-poster-team-xeyespoints of the film, but Suicide Squad worked them in as best as they could and each one worked and served a purpose.

DC has been called out on what many would call “questionable” casting choices. Jared Leto and Will Smith received a good bit of criticism; however, Smith delivered as Deadshot. The unofficial leader of the Squad was given the lions’ share of development, but it was certainly earned, as Smith's character provided a good bit of the humor many claim the DCEU sorely needs.

Not to be outdone, Leto’s first outing as the Clown Prince of Crime, while contained to a subplot, has done the job of making me interested in his character and literally left me wanting more. Funny, flamboyant, and daring, if this was any indication, Gotham City will be quite the fun place to visit come The Batman.

Unfortunately, some will be a bit disappointed in this portrayal of Harley Quinn, as she seems quite enamored with The Joker. Flashes of brilliance are there, and Margot Robbie looks keen to play the character for years to come, so seeing a more independent Harley isn’t totally out of the question, but there’s no room for that going solely off of Suicide Squad.

Surprisingly enough, El Diablo was arguably the fan favorite of the film, by the end of it. A character many would dismiss as a stereotype was given quite the development near the film's third act and had a truly astounding finale to his arc.

Unfortunately, but realistically, it left me wanting more from some of the other Squad members. Captain Boomerang, Katana, Killer Croc, Slipknot, and even Flagg to an extent kind of missed the character development train, but for most of them, the chance to show up elsewhere in the DCEU (in Batman, The Flash, and potentially Green Arrow) eases the pain a bit.

The story of the film is solid, and a bit of a twist just going from the trailers. The actual story, was pretty classic comic stuff, and as Flagg said in the trailers, fits the Squad MO. Go somewhere dangerous, that’ll get you killed. It worked in a lot of ways, with the twists and turns that really highlighted the characters personalities.

I liked the twist that was played throughout the film that, instead of having the characters revealed as better people than they think they are, they went in the opposite direction—showing our “heroes” aren’t as good as they think they are.

PHegBTgmDg3jhh_1_lThe visuals during most action scenes were amazing. Though, I think, as many have suggested, the DCEU could do with more fights going on during the day. It just makes things easier to see, and when you do it in 3D like I did, being able to see things more clearly is a huge bonus. The effects though, were top-notch. The work on the “magic” elements was so impressive.

Lastly, some claimed the villain was “weak.” (Spoiler Alert!) However, I have to disagree. Their motivation was classic: revenge. Nothing breathtaking, but works. Enchantress clearly outclassed everyone and was a real, global threat. Strong actor portrayal, though admittedly I don’t know Enchantress well enough from the comics to compare, but simply as a character, the performance was enjoyable.

Overall, this was what the DCEU needed. It showed depth and added to the world in positive ways, and hopefully some of the techniques that went into this will be used down the line. People wanted humor? You got Joker, Harley, Deadshot, and Boomerang. You wanted color? This film is pretty stylized in shades of purple and green. There’s red, blue, and all that. Oh, and the soundtrack? Top notch, for sure. Even got Sucker for Pain on my phone.

So that’s my critique, but I’m not critic. I’m just a fan. A DC Comics fan. I liked BvS and Man of Steel too. In my opinion it goes Man of Steel > Suicide Squad > Batman V. Superman. The film is not without fault, but that goes for any film. It’s strong suit is where it’s such a self-contained story, that it doesn’t give any real buildup to anything so everything is focused. Helping translate that into more of the films will help a lot. At this point though, I think it’s just the DCEU way, and maybe for the best.

You really want to know if you’ll like Suicide Squad? Just go see the movie and make your own assertion. It’s really the best way to know if you’ll like it or not.

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Suicide Sqaud
Director: David Ayer
Writers: David Ayer
Studio: DC/WB
Run Time: 123 minutes


Two Reviews: Suicide Squad (1 of 2)

Written by Jake Wood

DC, Warner Brothers, Geoff Johns. You can’t keep hurting people like this.

To confirm your fears, yes, Suicide Squad is a terrible … terrible film – BORDERLINE hilariously bad (Comic Bastards contributor Justin Wood – no relation – will probably disagree and say it was actually hilariously bad, as he was cackling like a madman beside me through nearly the entire movie). It’s a complete shame, this was supposed to be DC’s Ace, right? This was supposed to be their Guardians of the Galaxy, this was supposed to be the counter to Man of Steel and Batman V Superman, this was supposed to be ... fun. Before the go-hard, angry DC mob starts sharpening their shivs, let me tell you briefly where I’m coming from.

Despite how hard I’ll ream this movie, I’m actually a DC fanboy. Green Lantern and Batman are my absolute favorites, and have been since I was a child. Geoff Johns’ near-historic run on Green suicide-squad-movie-2016-posterLantern is what got me in to comic books in a more serious capacity as a teenager. I’ve since lapsed in keeping up to date with Who’s-Who-In-The-DCU, but DC Comics has always held a special place in my heart. Why does Marvel have to have such a monopoly on quality comic book movies (though outside of Deadpool, they’ve been slipping as of late – but I digress)? It grieves me that outside of near-masterpieces Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and (some will debate this) The Dark Knight Rises, DC/Warner Brothers can’t make a good live-action comic book movie to save their lives.

I started a joke, which started the whole world crying. But I didn’t see, that the joke was on me.

Let’s begin with where hope for this film was originally lit, the 2015 SDCC trailer for Suicide Squad; I re-watched it after seeing the final film, and damn is that probably the movie that writer/director David Ayer set out to make. That trailer, which DC/WB confusingly slut-shamed us all for watching bootlegs of (its 2016, leaked cellphone Comic Con videos are not something new … assholes), was haunting and dark and serious; DC was bringing out the bad guys – something which Marvel has never really been able to compete with DC over.  This was NOT the movie we received; so what changed? January 19th, 2016. This is when the sultry sounds of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen was brought in to the marketing campaign with that awesome first full-length trailer; likely the higher ups were seeing the writing on the wall - that the doom-and-gloom DC Cinematic Universe wasn’t meeting audiences’ needs, they wanted something different, something light-hearted, something weird, something fun. Almost assuredly they went in to full on meltdown mode when the frankly invigorating Deadpool opened and made just a stupidly-large amount of money (to date, Deadpool grossed more domestically than Batman V Superman and only 90 million dollars less internationally – at less than 1/4th the price); not only did Deadpool make all the Olivia-Munns (heh, you passed up Deadpool for Xmen Apocalypse), it was also significantly well-received by both critics and audiences. So now DC/WB had to scramble.

For those who don’t know, movie trailers are mostly cut by small contractors specializing in trailers and tv-spots; the contractor for Suicide Squad’s Rhapsody trailer, Trailer Park, was reportedly brought in to help with the editing of the final film – or as also reported, likely hired to edit a completely separate cut of the film from David Ayer. Based on the final version of the film I saw, it’s pretty clear that DC/WB took their wacky Trailer Park cut, and David Ayer’s cut, and smashed it together. John Gilroy is the sole credited editor, this man has edited films like Pacific Rim, Nightcrawler, and Narc (also Billy Madison – but I guess you gotta start somewhere); unless John Gilroy had a horrific motorcycle accident last year – this was clearly taken away from him and slapped together by hired guns and executives shooting wildly in to the air, hoping to hit anything. It’s utterly horrendous, it’s also inconsistent. I’ve seen where much ado has been made over the tacky pop-up graphics when characters are introduced, which are annoying and pathetic, but at least two members of the team inexplicably don’t have their stupid bios on screen: Katana, and Slipknot (who?). The Joker, while technically not a member of Task-Force X, doesn’t get one either, but Enchantress, also not part of the team lineup (also the main villain by the way), does.

“Aren’t Will Smith and Margot Robbie highlights of the movie though?” You may be asking. “What about Jared Leto’s inspired Joker performance?” It’s actually completely maddening how not one single character in Suicide Squad is done well. Not one. Maybe Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller skirts by. This is not to say it’s entirely the actors faults though, several members of the cast are good if-not-great actors: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Ecko!!!). David Ayer seems to have directed all of these actors as if Suicide-Squad-Slipknot-posterHack/Fraud Amateur-Director Jake Wood had directed them. It’s gonna get as tiring as the character biographies in the actual film, but let’s run down the list (and by that I mean, say a lot on a few bigguns – and then cram the rest in at the end).

Margot Robbie – One of the two most-talked about performances in the film, does she at least do Harley Quinn (arguably the most anticipated remaining comic book character to have yet appeared in a live-action film) justice? Y’know, Margot Robbie is probably perfect casting on paper, and she does her damnedest. She seems to have had the time-of-her-life in the role, but every line coming out of her mouth is poorly written and every choice for her made by the director leaves us wanting. Why is Harley Quinn even on the team (because the script said so)? She has no power, she’s not some well-renowned fighter, or anything like that. She has a baseball bat and a gun (that never needs reloading – but y’know… movies); she’s just a liability on the team, an insanely beautiful liability. I should also address the objectification factor a little bit, which, as a living human person, I admittedly appreciated the costume choice of New 52 Harley Quinn booty-shorts (If you’re worried – yes, your precious jester outfit makes an ultra-brief appearance too). I’ve seen some criticism that “the amount of Margot Robbie butt-shots outnumbers the total number of shots for some supporting characters”; well I kept track, and I counted roughly 15 hottie-boom-bottie glamour/butt-shots – actually a difficult task when you have to make a distinction as to whether the shot just happened to have her hot-pants in it, or if it was intentionally setup to highlight her butt or not. I'm sure to many, 15 objectifying shots is 15 shots too many, and I certainly can understand that, but that number is far less than I would have expected. I actually think there’s a different character that people should be more up-in-arms about (Enchantress). Also they actually bothered to give her a bra, and this is knowing that she spends the last 20 minutes of the movie completely soaked, so there’s no repeat of Kirsten Dunst’s glass-cutting nipples in Spider-Man here. We’ve come a long way people!

Will Smith – You turned down Independence Day Too for this? For this??? I’m so sorry. I don’t have too much to say about Deadshot. Will Smith is Will Smith, nothing particularly special. His character is one of the few that actually makes sense to be on Task Force X (I’m also admittedly not an expert on Deadshot, so I couldn’t tell you how true to the character he is). Being the only certifiable movie star, Big Will gets the first introduction in the film (oddly enough, before even Amanda Waller and the concept of the team), and has to pretend to be fatherly to a poor child actor that will sadly never make a real career out of this acting thing. Why wasn’t Jaden just his kid? Even though Deadshot’s kid is a daughter – from what I understand, Jaden would love that kind of challenge; or why not the "Whip My Hair" girl, Ziggy Smith or whatever her real name is? I want to insult the daughter (did she even have a name?) more, but I don’t feel comfortable with it unless one of Will Smith’s actual talentless kids played the part. I’m sorry you had to get “Skwad” tattooed on you (much like the cast of The Lord of The Rings, the Suicide Squad cast all got tattooed together).

Academy Award Winner, Jared Leto – Sigh. You were in Lord of War, man. So DC’s Cinematic Universe’s Joker is here. Gangsta-rap Joker, everybody. It’s as bad as you feared, and his role is as small and inconsequential as you feared. He’s so serious, except for literally one line about grape soda. If you’ve never seen FilmCow’s great YouTube video The Joker’s New Tattoos, finish reading this review, then go and watch it (it’s a minute long). Obviously they had to step away from Heath Ledger’s iconic performance, or Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance, or Mark Hamill’s iconic performance, or Cesar Romero’s iconic performance, but Jared Leto’s Joker is just all over the place, and he’s clearly enamored with his own shtick (I hope Ben Affleck tells him to leave all the dead animal gifts at home when his Batman film happens). I’m sure David Ayer thought this was the next Jack Sparrow (Fun fact: Johnny Depp got an Oscar Nom for the first Pirates). I’m not even mad about 99% of the tattoos, or the grills, or the VIP Playah look; really, it’s modern and Jim Lee’s Joker with the Yakuza tattoos worked for me. It just bothers me to no end that they Suicide-Squad-Joker-character-posterput “Damaged” on his forehead, I can tolerate literally all of it – except that one. It’s just the bottom-of-the-barrel Hot Topic idea for the Joker, it’s stupid, and shallow. Harley Quinn has “Lucky You” tattooed on her pelvis, but personally it would’ve been the greatest joke ever if she had a matching “Damaged” scrawled above her baby-maker.

Joel Kinnaman – I had heard that Cara Delevingne’s performance is the worst in the film. This came in to doubt when Robocop Remake Joel Kinnaman opened his mouth. Holy cow is he insufferable. His character, Rick Flag, is annoying and doesn’t pull his weight. How was (the originally cast) Tom Hardy supposed to work with this? Twice in the film his character is overwhelmed and has to be saved by the real stars of the film. He’s only in this movie because Rick Flag was a founding member of the team in the books, and also because someone had to fall in love with Enchantress so they could have some faux-emotional-investment.

Cara Delevingne – My alma-mater once did a children’s stage show of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and in it, the girl who played the White Witch gave this amazingly shrill and over the top performance - that was great in the context of an amateur stage play meant for little kids. On an unrelated note, Cara Delevingne is terrible and couldn’t act her way out of a wet paper bag in this major motion picture meant for adults and teenagers. I suppose I’m half out of line with any comparison to that White Witch performance, because she’s technically not shrill – as in her Enchantress form, she is dubbed over by a much deeper voice (recorded by an actual actress). Watching her chew the scenery like it’s never been chewed, I found myself imagining what her actual performance sounded like on set and just laughing to myself. Her movement is so stilted and awkward, it’s like she was doing a knockoff of that Samara ghost girl from The Ring but without the help of choppy editing. Watch her closely during the climax because she’s doing this hilariously bad belly dance jig which is meant to be her performing her spells. Earlier I mentioned that people should be more up in arms about Enchantress than Harley Quinn, because this girl spends nearly the entirety of the film in a Slave Leia + Pig-Pen from Peanuts bikini, or in her true-form where her magic-energy costume (not unlike 2009’s Green Lantern’s costume) is tastefully covering only her bits. None of these looks are ever remotely close to anything I’ve ever seen the character in (or that I can see in a Google image search). Her true-form (which I imagine was added in reshoots because it only recently started showing up in marketing) is nearly an actionable rip-off of Galadriel’s magical look in The Lord of the Rings, and oddly enough her headdress looks like something of Big Barda’s. Pretty girl though, she should be a model – oh right that’s where she came from. I’m so sorry this acting thing isn’t working out for you.

Academy Award Nominee, Viola Davis – She’s probably the person who’ll come out the cleanest on the other end of this disaster (which is really appropriate considering the character right?). Just one thing, though. Talking while chewing? That’s hella rude. You work with these people.

The rest of ‘em – Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang, this is actually the least forgettable Jai Courtney has ever been. Most of the laughs actually revolve around him. Also remember that great moment where he cracks open a beer while shit’s going down? We never see where he gets the beer. An insert shot would’ve been nice, DAVID. Jay Hernandez as El Diabo, hey you have an actual superpower, way to go. You also ruined that great bar scene by awkwardly telling your TERRIBLE backstory that we didn’t need elaborated on. We got it, you did some bad stuff but now you’re trying to change. Adam Beach as Slipknot, a person who is definitely a beloved DC comic book character, and not just cannon fodder. Frankly, I’m glad there are more Margot Robbie butt-shots than shots of his character. Scott Eastwood as Unnamed SWAT Team Lackey; they’re trying to make him a thing right now, but he will soon go the way of Sam Worthington/Taylor Kitsch. Mr. Ecko from LOST plays Killer Croc and it’s maybe the saddest thing about this movie. They didn’t bother redubbing him, and it seems like his brain was lagging from the heat of being in that make up, Suicide-Squad-Character-Poster-Deadshothe’s barely understandable at times. The single worst line delivery in the movie is attributed to him saying he’s beautiful, I felt SO embarrassed for him. And lastly, Karen Fukuhara as Katana; I want to give her special commendation, going in to the final battle, there’s this weird moment where she is absolutely sobbing and saying goodbye to her husband’s soul (which is trapped in her magic sword) in case she dies. This was honestly the most touching moment of any sentiment in the film. You go girl.

Do you guys even care about the plot at this point? It’s pretty straight forward, which is apparently refreshing when compared to the simple plot of Batman V Superman (a joke – I haven’t bothered to watch BVS yet), it’s all just a single mission, no practice run, no training up the team, just “get this person out of a building in a city under attack by Enchantress.”  It’s kinda like Dredd, but with none of the redeeming qualities of Dredd. That’s the thing, I have the same criticism of Guardians of the Galaxy. Both movies were kinda built up as “we’re getting in to the weird stuff in our Universe,” but both films definitely pull their punches there and have really straight-forward plots. DC, you once had Superman sing a note to stop an evil math problem, you can get weirder than an evil witch tries to rule/destroy the world or whatever.

Holy crap is the music terrible too. Actually, the music is great; there’s not a noticeably-bad song featured in the film. Clearly this is where a huge Guardians of the Galaxy influence came in like a wrecking ball; Fortunate Son, Sympathy for the Devil, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, fucking Spirit in the Sky – a song actually featured in Guardians! All the song choices are obvious, and used obviously. Remember when Tarantino would throw in a ringer song that you could never see coming? Also the soundtrack just keeps booping along obnoxiously, the first half of the movie seemed to be end-to-end songs – this half is also where I think Trailer Park had its strongest influence. Once things transition to the endgame, the mixtape music stops, and we get a pathetic limped-dick attempt at a Score for the rest of the film. One last note on the soundtrack that needs serious mention. Remember Bohemian Rhapsody? They freaking sold the movie to us on that song. Is it in the movie? Yes. Is it that bland and unnecessary cover by Panic! At The Disco (which is on the soundtrack)? Actually no. They use the legitimate version of Bohemian Rhapsody BUT it had to be no more than a minute of it. They don’t even reprise it during the credits. How do you do this? Gabe Hilfer and Season Kent were the credited Music Supervisors (typically the guys who suggest the soundtrack songs to the director and editors). Gabe, Season, what happened?

One final thing, because I feel an ulcer coming from all this bile (J/K it’s from all the Crystal Pepsi I’ve been binging) – I hate that they used some jaggedy font for the subtitles, just use a standard font please.

TL;DR – The movie sucks. I’m not just being mean because I love Marvel (because I don’t). Sincerely worried about Wonder Woman. Please don't kill yourself, Ben Affleck, you still do good work. Karen Fukuhara, I said something nice about your performance – my phone number is (***) ***-****.

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Suicide Sqaud
Director: David Ayer
Writers: David Ayer
Studio: DC/WB
Run Time: 123 minutes


Review: Pear Cider & Cigarettes

I was lucky to go into Vimeo's second original film blind. I remember seeing some of my animation industry friends sharing the Kickstarter link for the short when it was live, even thinking of dropping a few bucks in myself though I eventually wouldn't. All I remembered was the aesthetic: glossy, digital, and glowing with hot electronic colors. From the outside, it gives the impression it might be some sort of disco throwback noir, the title and style suggesting something sexy and crime themed. The truth is, the short is less of a freshly waxed sports car and more a quiet reflective conversation in a corner booth in a nearly empty bar. The story, apparently at least somewhat autobiographical from the life of animator/graphic novelist Robert Valley, unfolds slowly as a somber portrait of rocky friendship and the incredible toll life leans on the living, carefully revealing itself all while framed with peerless aesthetic clarity.

Narrated from Valley's perspective, the short film concerns the life and early death of his friend Techno, a vibrant but self-destructive young man whose life of excitement is quickly and irreparably paralyzed by his devastated health and spiritual isolation. Valley's guide is one of regularly wounded affection, sacrificing for his friend but unable to avoid being a witness and recorder of Techno's eventually fatal personal flaws. While Techno's life of adventurous and bacchanalian excess is explored, the story suddenly and wisely cuts it short, giving you a picture of his electric peak before quickly pulling the rug out for a grueling look at his sudden but excruciatingly elongated decline. It's not a portrait of a party lifestyle and its consequences as the bow on the end of the narrative, it's the story of a man who loved life in a way that killed him as well as the other man who was held prisoner by friendship to watch him die.

Pear Cider and CigsSomething I was unaware of when I agreed to review the short was that I was already quite familiar with Robert Valley as an artist, being the primary contributor to the character designs on the underrated and short-lived animated series Tron: Uprising. Valley's singular style is immediately apparent in his work, his figures designed with angular and exaggerated anatomy, at times equally grotesque as it is expressive caricature. In Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Valley is able to be even more free and stylized, adapting the pages of the graphic novel the short is based on with a look that comes off contradictively as both naturalistically gestural and glossily digital at the same time, using the book as storyboards for the art. One thing the viewer might notice is the short actually works more like a motion comic than a true animated film much of the time, with most shots being very subtly animated still images, full frame by frame animation shots being rare. While this might be seen as a handicap to the short, it never once took away from the film despite noticing this. The slight animation techniques used being expressive enough and intelligently utilized that it gives the "still images" more dimension and character than some fully animated flash cartoons. Valley's detail fleshing out the world and the careful attention to gesture delivered by the animation team sets the storytelling style beyond reproach, rich with surprise.

The audiowork rounds it out perfectly, with what looks like a very expensive catalog of licensed music to accompany the original contributions by Robert Trujillo. Smoky jazzy tracks from groups as disparate as Pink Floyd and Nightmares on Wax color the quiet rumble of the noir like narration, soothing and intimate, bringing you close to tell you previously unspoken secrets.

While a tough story to hear (and for Valley, I'd imagine, a tough story to tell), the short is a sad story, not a depressing one. There's a note of inevitability in Techno's eventual downfall and even his library of personal crimes along the way. A sense that for him, it would always end up this way somehow, a consequence of finding fulfillment in reckless and often selfish behavior. You don't hate him, even though you blame him. You don't mourn him, even though you feel the emptiness of his passing. While unflinching and presenting more flaws than admirable traits, Valley has crafted a beautiful, deeply felt tribute to his friend. One that invites you in to understand his friendship in a way that makes you feel his connection while only communicating in simple abstractions why he stayed so loyal to someone who only seemed to sacrifice when it was made biologically inescapable. It may have slick stylings, but the storytelling here results in one of the most real and grounded human stories I've experienced in quite a while.

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Pear Cider & Cigarettes Creator: Robert Valley Price: $4.99 (Rent), $8.99 (Buy) Available Here!


Review: Star Trek Beyond

I watched a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic documentary two years ago, about the Brony phenomenon. I'd seen one episode of the show and couldn't maintain interest, but I wanted to understand where the passionate love from adult men for the program came from. It wasn't a matter of judgment, but simply that the fandom seemed a genuine anomaly, fascinating in its own right in how it aggressively broke free of the strict gender demographic segregation of all ages media. The documentary didn't clear much up, but it did leave one impression on me. Repeatedly, one of the primary defenses of the show from the fans themselves was My Little Pony's morals. Men in their late teens and early twenties talked about how meaningful and powerful the show was for communicating life lessons like "being honest with your friends is good" and "be yourself." If anything the documentary left me more confused, making me wonder what cultural famine left adults feeling spiritually fulfilled and morally educated by these grade school morality tales. Boys loving something pink isn't bewildering to me. Finding "don't judge a book by its cover" deep when you're drinking age, is. startrekbeyondposterThis brings us to another cultural phenomenon, one that inspired bewilderment in its own age and helped establish the modern face of fandom as we know it. I'll proudly admit that as a young man, Star Trek was an important part of my moral education. Yes, after I just insulted thousands of young men for gaining self-empowerment from a show about cartoon horses I just claimed I was made a more complete person by a show about people shooting lasers in front of cardboard backdrops. However, I will go to task for the philosophical sophistication of The Next Generation any day. From the obvious examples like "The Measure of a Man" which hinged the drama on answering the question whether or not an artificial intelligence can be considered alive, to the less referenced like "Silicon Avatar," where arguments are made to the defense of the right to life of an intelligent entity of incredible destructive power. Not every episode was so philosophically arch, or particularly subtle, but before we had Star Treks where crew members had to decontaminate by stripping to their underwear and rubbing each other with lube (or pick your episode of Voyager where Star Trek died) it was a franchise that built its reputation on its championing of humankind, the value of life, and the constant strive to improve ourselves as individuals and a collective species.

That Star Trek is gone now, but that's not news. This intro isn't to bemoan the tragedy (genuine that it is) that Star Trek has become Mission Impossible in space. Star Trek '09 was that, and I enjoyed the movie immensely, despite its howling plot holes and crass bastardization of a once meaningful franchise. Because it was fun. Because it had personality and a sense of humor. It was still a hollow shell, but Star Trek as a property had been dead for years, seeing it strung up with 'splosions and women in their underwear wasn't as offensive as it might have been at one time. Until Into Darkness came along. Ugly, mean-spirited, and shitting on Roddenberry's spacebound ashes, Into Darkness was one of the worst experiences I've had in a theater this last decade. I actually started writing on this site because of a positive review someone wrote here that inspired me to throw my own misanthropic hat into the critical slurry. Like Man of Steel (and even more fittingly, Batman Vs. Superman), the outrage wasn't entirely ignored, and this year's Star Trek Beyond was championed by the producers, screenwriters, and cast as a return to form for Star Trek. It's about exploration. It's about teamwork. It's about adventure. Simon Pegg was screenwriting. We're sorry. We're so begrudgingly sorry for Into Darkness. Please forgive us with your money.

star_trek_beyondThis was the intro to the review. It's longer than some entire reviews I've written. It's this long because I need you to understand. I need you to understand how a man who claims The Phantom Menace was deeply upsetting to him, helped kill Star Trek even deader than it already was. It's because of promises like saying your bringing Star Trek back to its roots. Nobody should have believed it, and I certainly didn't. It's directed by someone whose major claim to fame is making the Fast and the Furious films popular again; it's not going to be real Star Trek. That's not the problem. The problem is having a seemingly smart talented screenwriter say that, and then deliver us My Little Pony.

This is a more hopeful Star Trek. Gone is the post 9-11 grey Rainbow Six: Galaxy vibe. The score by the exceptionally talented Micheal Giacchino (as forgettable as it is this time around) is more upbeat and makes more intentional nods to the original series. The movie doesn't end with the Enterprise crew wearing pseudo-Nazi uniforms this time. However, the moral sophistication they try to introduce is laughably childish. While Into Darkness even briefly toyed with debating the morality of executing criminals without trial, the beating moral heart of Star Trek Beyond is "war bad, peace gud." The cast awkwardly and horribly crams bland meaningless maxims about togetherness and unity between the endless babbling technoexposition, making them sound more like a lame cult than morally informed citizens of humanity. The villain retorts in his asthmatic rumble with contrary statements that have all of the intellectual challenge and subtly of a Care Bears villain. Star Trek Beyond isn't worse than Star Trek Into Darkness. The one saving grace of the film is Darkness made a goal out of spraying cookie shits all over one of the best entries in cinematic Star Trek, while this one tells its own story, meaning they only get to ruin their own work. What Beyond is, however, is more pathetic. I was ready to give this film a chance. I even liked a lot of what it started with. What I got was another confirmation that trailers do in fact tell you everything you need to know about blockbusters today. Trust your instincts, nobody is even trying anymore.

star_trek_beyond_ver8All of the good things about the movie fit in the first 30 minutes. Immediately, Star Trek Beyond does some smart things. It jumps right into the characters without obnoxious ostentatious buildup. The characters don't get their own dramatic introduction, there isn't a big reveal of the Enterprise. Instead, Beyond throws you into the story like you'd never left it. I imagine the thinking was to recreate the feeling of coming back to the next episode of a television show, just another chapter without the unnecessary wonderment at seeing these characters together again. It's a welcome choice that felt smarter than the dumb "Raiders of Twizzler Planet" opening Darkness stared with. The characters are introspective but not so far as to be broody. Leonard Nimoy's death is referenced in a way that could have been very interesting, as in-universe Old Spock dies as well, making Young Spock reflect on the meaning of the time he has left. It's a great idea. That's what I'm doing here. Listing the few great ideas.

My favorite idea, that could have resulted in a great adventure movie, is the splitting up of the crew. After the big plot centric disaster, the crew is divided into pairs, allowing for much more screen-time and a split focus, giving everyone moments and things to do (except Uhura, who once again is relegated to looking distraught at things). Breaking up the bromance of Kirk and Spock, the oft ignored Leonard McCoy gets to hang out with the green blooded bastard, playing the Odd Couple in space the original show cast them as. Scotty gets to hang out with a new playmate, a "badass" lady alien wearing makeup seemingly plagiarized from the Morlocks in that terrible Guy Pearce version of The Time Machine. Kirk and Chekov team up to essentially... eh, it doesn't result in much. It's a pity The Green Room couldn't have premiered after this so it could have definitively been Anton Yelchin's farewell picture, as he's easily the most wasted member of the cast this time around. Star Trek Beyond does what the X-Men franchise always needed to do, have the balls to tell stories with characters that aren't the go-to leads. Seeing Spock and McCoy have their own mini adventure was nice, and when the crew reforms they still all have their own dynamics with each other (except Sulu, because he was paired with Uhura, which again, was only there to look really, really upset at stuff). Great. Great. This is good screenwriting and I am happy to see it in play. Except it's got no charisma. I laughed twice during this movie, and smiled once, and this film is front loaded with jokes. Problem is, the jokes are all stale fill in the blank adventure comedy humor. For coming from the co-writer of probably the perfect comedy film since the turn of the millennium, Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg's script is loaded with the most obvious rote one-liners you can think of, practically a checklist of comedy clichés. I'd love to blame Justin Lin, who clearly doesn't have a great handle on managing performances in the movie, lacking a certain energy that J.J. Abrams milked out of the talented ensemble, but these actors and this director had almost nothing to work with.

Keep in mind, we just finished covering the parts of the film I actually enjoyed. Now lets take the turn.

Dr-McCoy-Star-Trek-Beyond-posterI'm going to be an asshole and start the synopsis here, but that's only because proper context is required when discussing the utter desolation that is the climax of this film. While on their three-year mission into deep space, Kirk and crew stop by a futuristic new Starbase that proves that people still aren't done being amazed by the folding city visual from Inception. They intercept a survivor from a space disaster, apparently a ship marooned on a planet hidden in an impenetrable nebula, nebula in this film being a word that describes an asteroid field, because Beyond had to find some way to top the "cold fusion being cold" gaffe that Into Darkness gave us. The Enterprise being the only ship capable of penetrating the rocky mess, they find a trap waiting for them, a swarm of tiny ships that tear the Enterprise to shreds. The leader of this force is our villain, Durian Luther, who tries really hard to be memorable, intimidating, and ruthless, but instead gets a chair next to General Grievous and Balem Abrasax as high kings of worthless sci-fi villainy. The Enterprise destroyed, the crew has to band together to keep Durian Luther from using an extremely hackneyed and shockingly meaningless MacGuffin from destroying the universe... maybe.

It's something that doesn't strike you till the end, that every tiny detail in the movie is set up for an annoying payoff later, and the really big things you expect to be elaborated in more detail are left vague for some reason. There's a lot of little touches in the movie, moments that feel like world-building, but eventually every single one of those will come back to irritatingly result in a twist or action moment. Scotty's little mascot friend's acid spitting head-cold joke? The crew will use it to break out of prison. That video playing in the abandoned Starfleet craft? Will result in some inspiringly ill-conceived Keyzer Soyzeying of the main villain. Even fucking Morlock Babe's affinity for anachronistic 90's hip hop? Will result in the most stunning and horrifying moment of schlock in Star Trek history since a 57-year-old Nichelle Nichols did a sexy belly dance to distract some horny alien guards in The Final Frontier. I honestly couldn't believe what I was seeing. There are no words. Meanwhile, huge ideas are left completely unexplained. A character's physical transformation, key to the plot, is left without explanation. The MacGuffin, which has a long convoluted history of ownership, is never given a rational explanation for the transition of ownership, or character's arbitrary knowledge of it. The little stuff is given too much importance, and the big stuff is completely ignored.

star-trek-beyond-poster-internationalFinally, all the way at the bottom, the action sucks. Justin Lin, the guy who helped make the Fast and the Furious franchise not only successful again but financially capable of competing with Marvel superheroes, doesn't direct a single competent action sequence in all of this movie. Scenes are either hideously close up with Paul Greengrass shaky-cam, shrouded in inky darkness, or both. Like the Fast and the Furious, a couple dozen entirely fatal things happen to our leads with no physical repercussions, making them insultingly impervious to injury and tension. Most criminally, however, the action has no architecture. Even when fully lit, the action sequences are a messy blur of poorly directed and edited chaos, with characters blipping in and out of locations without any relationship to environments or each other. Contrast this to The Nice Guys, which came out earlier this year, a film that put a strong stamp on how modern action should be directed. The movie featured head-spinningly complex and multilayered action scenes, but through precise staging, attention to architecture, and clearly communicated character motivations, you could follow every beat perfectly. It's a relic from another era of action film-making, this thing called competence.

The film ends (no spoilers) with a toast to "absent friends." It's a callback, of course. Originally, it was made by Kirk, marking the passing of Spock in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It was a nice somber moment, given weight by the beloved status of the departed character. It was reprised by the character of Jean-Luc Picard, mourning the death of Data in Star Trek: Nemesis, itself a reference, made somewhat awkward by Data's uninspired demise being compared to Spock's iconic death in Wrath of Khan. Finally, here in Beyond, it is broadly used to commemorate the deaths of hundreds of nameless background crew members of the Enterprise, only one of which had a name and plot function, and who ultimately serve as little but tributes to action scene carnage. Even compared to Nemesis, considered to be one of the worst Star Trek films, this has little dramatic weight. For all of its preaching and lecturing of the value of teamwork and crews being a family, ultimately the only characters we're told to care about dying are the ones who get their name on the poster. Sulu's new husband isn't just in the film as a marker of the changing face of diversity, but so we can stick a face in the crowd of fleeing citizens of Starfleet that we can pretend we care about. Ultimately, that's what always gave Star Trek its heart, the love of life. Exploration in Star Trek itself was always centered around life. You didn't see many episodes about geological surveys or measuring nebula (the non-asteroid kind), it was about other civilizations, the multifaceted, complicated, strangeness of life in all its expressions. In Beyond, life is a plot device, to be preserved only for its utility of dramatic tension. For all those promises of a new era of Star Trek, it's all the more disappointing to see a supposed attempt result in so little. The franchise as a franchise will continue on to a fourth entry, audiences apparently will respond well to x-treme dirtbike stunts in Star Trek films, but the soul is, and will likely remain, as dead as Morn.

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Star Trek Beyond
Director: Justin Lin Writer: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung Run Time: 122 Minutes


Review: The Boy and the Beast

I’ve had this movie on my “to watch” list for a good while now. It wasn’t until after our previous episode of Super S that I finally decided to give a whirl. I should have just left it there.

In a nutshell, The Boy and the Beast is about two beasts duking it out to take over for the grandmaster of the beast world as he is retiring and going to reincarnate into a god. One of the beasts, Kumatetsu (the beast), is in search of a disciple and decides to pluck one from the human world. Kumatetsu bumps into Ren (the boy), a runaway, and decides to take him on as his disciple. The story goes from there.

The-Boy-and-the-Beast-PosterThe animation in this movie is top notch. Everything is absolutely stunning. Both the beast world and human world are fucking gorgeous. There’s just the right amount of CG that it’s not overbearing or annoying. There are times when the human world looks like it’s an actual photo of Tokyo. It’s that good. The characters are also unique, no one character looks like the next. This is helped by the fact that the story mostly takes place in the beast world.

Sadly, though, I was bored halfway through the movie. The first half was great and chock full of character development. It was nice to see how Ren and Kumatetsu needed each and are better beings because of it. It’s just that the story dragged. As it is, the movie is two hours long, longer than your typical animated movie. Even then, it didn’t get to the climax until the last 20 minutes.

There’s also an underlying message in this movie: don’t let the darkness in your heart turn you into a monster. Great message, but did the grandmaster really have to tell us this as if we couldn’t figure it out on our own? No. It was painfully obvious when the “villain” turns to a black figure with a wormhole near his heart. Speaking of villain and painfully obvious, how stupid is everyone? From the second he was introduced, I knew that he was... well, I won't tell you that part.

Of course the movie ends with a happy ending, but by then I really didn’t care and just wanted it to finish. I went into this movie wanting so much and was extremely let down. The animation is by far the star and the saving grace of the movie, which is a real shame.

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The Boy and the Beast
Writer/Director: Mamoru Hosoda


Review: Kill Zone 2

I was more than surprised by this movie. After being disappointed by not one but five action flicks, Kill Zone 2 not only delivered on the story, but on the visuals as well. I don’t know if we have The Raid to thank for an increased awareness in Asian cinema when it comes to film/digital quality, but if so… thank you Raid.

Not to get all "back in my day," but when I first got into Asian cinema during college, the thing that I really liked was that the film quality was really good. Then there was a bit of a bust and every studio went back to cheap looking film. Clearly technology has gotten cheaper and so the quality of movies has gone up as well. I know this all seems unimportant to the review, but when you see Kill Zone 2 it looks like it was produced in Hollywood. In particular, there is one scene involving a phone falling into the water and the way it looks when it’s falling is actually quite beautiful and metaphoric.

The story is layered quite well. It spans from Hong Kong to Bangkok and gives each city’s actors their fair share of screen time. Though I will instantly tell you that that means that Tony Jaa never really “goes off” in the movie until the very end.

BD-2D-KZ2The story is basically two fold. There’s a human trafficking ring that the Hong Kong police are trying to shut down by sending in an undercover cop. He’s hooked on smack, but getting the job done. The kidnapping ring as they call it, is run by a rich sick dude in Hong Kong who funnels the people out to a prison run by one of his operatives in Bangkok. The sick dude needs a heart and decides that if his brother isn’t going to give him his, he’s going to take it by force. This is where the undercover cop comes into play as he’s invited to his first kidnapping.

Tony Jaa works at the prison, but he’s naïve to what really going on there. His daughter is sick and he’s basically just keeping his head down and trying to find her a bone marrow transplant that matches. Eventually, the undercover cop ends up in the prison after being exposed. Now he’s collateral for the rich dude to get his brother released to him.

As I said, the story is layered and there’s more layers that I won’t reveal to you. They are clever and while at times they feel conveniently added to the story, when you really look at them and look at the way they’re included you’ll find that it’s anything but convenient. You will spend some of the movie wondering when the other shoe will drop and the way that they reveal it was anything but typical. It was handled incredibly well and so there’s some major kudos to the writer of the movie.

For any martial arts film you need impressive bad guys. Obviously the sick rich dude isn’t going to throw down, but he surrounds himself with two awesome fighters that are both given great scenes to showcase their skills before their final battles. The setup is typical, but its executed so well. The Warden in particular had an awesome look. Seeing him fight in an expensive tailored suit was actually pretty incredible. As for the other fighter, I don’t want to spoil it. You’ll know him when you see him.

Really my one and only gripe is that Tony Jaa wasn’t given enough solo fight time. I mean he has a couple of moments when he goes off, but in large part it felt a bit like a Jackie Chan movie in which there’s only a handful of scenes in which he’s actually fighting. Which is actually good. I have to admit that it was a stronger movie and made Jaa come off as a stronger actor because of it. He’s leaps and bounds better than his first movies and is on his way to being an even bigger international name. That and if I really need to see more fighting from him I could go watch Ong Bak.

Wu Jing also does some great martial arts in the film. I really have no idea if he’s trained at all. He might have some training, but for the most part everyone he fights makes him look really good. They sell his moves for him so even if he isn’t trained in martial arts, he’s presented as knowing quite a bit. He also carries the other half of the movie for the most part and shows why he’s getting more and more roles. I actually became a bit of a fan of his after seeing this movie. Especially after a scene in the hospital that I won’t spoil for you because it’s really emotional.

Kill Zone 2 isn’t perfect. There’s a few spots that could have used another pass to really make it great, but it’s probably the best movie from the East that I’ve seen a couple of years. I enjoyed the story and the care that was used in layering it from beginning to end. The visuals were extremely impressive and the fighting was memorable and reinvigorated my desire to see more martial art films. And best of all, I have no clue if it had anything to do with Kill Zone 1 and didn’t need to know in order to enjoy this film.

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Kill Zone 2
Director: Soi Cheang
Distributor: Well Go USA
Price: $24.98
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital



Review: Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe

Last year I got back into Asian cinema after taking a pretty long break from it. Like most things that I nerd out about, they rotate in and out of my life catching my interest at different times. If I didn’t run a comic website,  this would have already happened a few times with comic books as well. I didn’t see anything that was really worth a damn last year and almost fell out of interest as quickly as I fell in.

Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe was a step in the right direction for me. It reminded me of a lot of action intense films that I first watched when getting into Hong Kong cinema. Heavy on the CGI, interesting concept, but not a very deep story. One thing that Ghostly Tribe has going for it is the fact that it has a cast that can act.

The story is spread out across several years, but it starts in the 70s as a special expedition is exploring a cave that’s producing some interesting skeletons. After an explosion is triggered, an even smaller expedition is gathered to venture beyond the cave. They end up finding large animal prints and continuing their journey to follow it. Along the way they run into danger. Over and over until there’s only four of them left. Hu Bayi, Ping Yang, her father Professor Yang and another dude who is protecting Hu Bayi as much as he can. They find an alien created cave and shit gets weirder. Eventually only three make it out and they’re scattered to the wind until an event brings them back together.

BD-2D-ChroniclesOfTheGhostlyTribeWhat’s really actually interesting about the story is that it’s a big monster movie hidden behind history and aliens. The three play well together as writer/director Lu Chuan not only creates a very convincing secret history for China, but then sneaks in aliens and monsters. The pacing of the story is pretty typical of Hong Kong cinema. There’s a lot going on in the beginning, then it slows down in the middle and speeds up at the end. It’s not bad when you consider that Hong Kong/China cinema follows its own storytelling structure. There is a scene at the end that basically reveals why we saw everything at the beginning and it actually works. If most other movies did that you’d be upset that they waited to tell you the point of everything right at the end, but really the rest of the movie stands on its own and if it weren’t setting up a series of movies/stories then this scene wouldn’t even be needed.

The acting again is actually really good. I only had a problem with the type cast fat guys since one of them is nicknamed “Fatty” and it was just the most overplayed gag ever. He was still a good actor and he never went over the top with the “funny fat friend” role, but it was still kind of disappointing to see that they’re still writing that character after all these years. I mean Hollywood is still doing it so I shouldn’t be that surprised, but still disappointing none the less because his weight never needed to be brought up and he actually served as a well-balanced supporting character.

The cinematography and CGI were the strongest aspects of the film. The film looks great from start to finish, I couldn't get over how great it looked. I don’t know why, but even though it was obviously CGI, it matched the world and looked better than a lot of CGI I've seen in American films lately. And there was a ton of it. The monsters, the caves, hell there’s even a scene in which a library is recreated in CGI and in the moment it’s very convincing. There was a great deal of attention paid to the CGI, especially when the monsters were running amok. At one point, a monster claws several seats on a bus and the rips appear in CGI. It’s a small detail, but I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve seen where they missed stuff like that. It gave the impression that this movie was given the time it needed to be the best version of itself possible.

That’s not to say that the film is perfect. One problem I had was actually on the back of the box in which the synopsis incorrectly states the story ends up in Modern Day New York. I only caught this part since it’s bold and in large print so I kind of wondered when the movie was going to jump to the modern era. It never did. It spans several years, but the story intentionally stays in the past and it definitely doesn’t go to New York. Another gripe if you will, is that in the closing scenes of the movie it sets the story up for a strange sequel in which our main character must look for another character, one that I had zero interest in finding. It was a bit of a head-scratcher as to why another movie would be dedicated to finding this “B” list character, but hey, not my movie.

My last “issue” with the film isn’t really an issue because I don’t know enough about the director’s vision. It’s tough to say if he was trying to capture an era in Chinese history accurately or if he was simply encouraged to put the material in the film. That is to say there’s quite a few scenes that I can only describe as propaganda due to the hokey nature of the material and the fact that everyone takes it seriously and never questions it. Again, tough to say if it was just being historically accurate or if it was imposed on the movie in some way. Since I don’t know, I definitely don’t want to assume, but it’s worth noting.

At its core, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe is a popcorn flick. It’s not going to open our mind or make you feel a wide range of emotions. It delivers on the action and intensity and so I’ll be rating it on that. On being a really enjoyable and fun action movie that I might actually watch again and even more so watch the sequel too, even if I don’t care about the character they’re searching for.

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Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe
Writer/Director: Lu Chuan
Distributor: Well Go USA
Price: $24.98
Format: DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital


Review: Finding Dory

Finding Nemo has a special place in my heart. Not because it was my first Pixar movie. No, my first was the same as most people my age, Toy Story. It has a special place in my heart because it was the first Pixar movie I saw with my wife. We had just barely begun to hang out with each other then and so the title and vows were many years away, but it has remained a movie that is near and dear to both of our hearts. It got us hooked on seeing Pixar films together. Until last year when I stopped enjoying their films and she started seeing them early without me. Not the point. This past weekend we had the chance to see an early viewing of Finding Dory, the sequel to, of course, Finding Nemo. Some of you probably know it as “that movie Ellen is super excited about.” Right off the bat I didn’t feel that Nemo needed a sequel. I used to have respect for Pixar because they weren’t sequel machines and when they would make a sequel, it was usually really freaking good (except for Monsters University, that’s unwatchable).

Already I had my doubts going into the movie. It also didn’t help that every time I’ve seen an advanced showing in L.A., the crowd has always, always decided if they love the or hate the movie before the lights dim in the theater. It’s one of the most baffling things and I will never understand it. This crowd was anxious to love this film. Anxious. I mention that because the crowd you see a film with can very easily sway your opinion about a film if you let it. I had my doubts, but the crowd has nothing but love which balanced me out.

The film itself is unfortunately predictable. I called the film and the “message” of the film just from the trailer, which I had tried to avoid seeing until the days leading up to the screening. If you don’t already know, it’s about Dory finding her family and a little bit of “finding herself” as well. If you didn’t care for Dory’s character in the first film, then you’d do well to skip this film altogether.

There is the typical dramatic sadness that’s become commonplace with Pixar movies. It works every time though so it’s not a complaint that’s it’s there, more of a statement. There’s plenty of humor of course, but what was strange was that you could almost perfectly call when the humor would happen. It follows the Nemo formula that closely.

Finding Dory PosterThe voice acting in the film is fine. All the stars of the first film reprise their role and new additions are added. At this point Pixar has brought in new regulars to their films and so you’ll hear a few familiar voices. The only problem with this is that several of them had similar tones and so you can be fooled into thinking the same actors are doing voices over and over.

Idris Elba and Dominic West steal the show as two sea lions with their thick British accents. They’re so amusing that they find as many ways as possible to fit them into the story, to the point that it feels like forced humor.

I will say that Young Dory, voiced by Sloane Murray, will make you tearful. If you’re a new parent like I am, she and her parent’s interactions will likely make you blame the wind on more than one occasion. Ellen is good as Dory, but it felt like her memory loss was cranked just a little too much this time. It’s consistent throughout the film, but it reveals the overall problem with the character and film in general… too much of Dory isn’t a good thing. Sure, by the end her character has grown and developed more, but I honestly didn’t feel rewarded by that journey. It was more of a sense of relief that it was finally over.

The animation is incredible. The water effects are so much better this time around and really the textures that all of the animals have is leaps and bounds better. Granted that’s always a technology thing and since these films all have a two-year cycle, Finding Dory already looks better than Pixar’s films from last year. There really did seem to be a sense of love in handling this film though. A sense of love that was completely missing from Monsters University which didn’t wow with its story or graphics. It very much felt like we were taking another adventure into the ocean.

As for the movie and how it did as a sequel, it was good, but not great. Even with my fondness for Nemo aside, the overall story suffered from too much of the Pixar formula. A formula that has this desire to hit comedic beats at exact minutes in the film and to hit dramatic beats at exact minutes in the film. It felt too much like someone had cracked the math behind our emotions and wanted to prove the formula. At times it still worked, but other times it stood out as an attempt to make me feel something rather than genuinely making me feel something.

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Finding Dory
Director: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane (co)
Writer: Andrew Stanton
Story: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson
Studio: Disney/Pixar
Run Time: 103 min
Release Date: 6/17/16



Us Versus Movies: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

It's the podcast for the sequel you didn't ask for! Both myself and Kevin were pretty big fans of the original film so we took a chance on what became a Netflix exclusive (minus the budget support) and dived into a sequel that only brought back one character from the original cast and added Donnie Yen. Did it fly high in the bamboo this time around or fall into a waterfall? Also, Fuller House... its in there for some reason. UVM-Crouching-Tiger-2-Full

Previously on Us Versus Movies...

Review: Memento

Written by guest contributor Cameron Gallagher

Christopher Nolan is arguably the greatest director to premiere in the 21st Century, and Memento is the original film that put him on the map. With an incredible pattern of storytelling, Memento is one of the most “brain-scrambling” movies I’ve seen.

Following a man who can’t remember what happened just moments before, we are spiraled into a journey of “half forwards” and “half backwards” storytelling as he tries to uncover the mystery of who killed his wife. It’s hard enough writing and telling a story forwards, especially that of a good and compelling story, but to do it forwards, and backwards at the same time is insane. So basically to try to explain it as best as I can, this film begins at its end, as well as beginning and works its way to a center point, uncovering the mystery. It sounds incredibly confusing, but it is actually quite easy to understand thanks to Christopher Nolan’s very wise choice to swap between black & white and color.

MementoAs you can already probably see, this film is lacking nothing in the story space. It is masterfully written by Christopher Nolan, and is honestly the most original film I probably have ever seen. Even though the story itself is very straight forward, the tricks Nolan uses in order for us to feel and think in certain ways really creates an intense and revolving story. I love how we feel like the main character, we learn things as he does, because he can’t remember them.

This film like all other Nolan films to follow is beautifully shot and acted. Guy Pierce absolutely nailed this role with the uneasy feeling of someone who seems to know everything, but is completely clueless, and the best part is not once did I ever feel as though I was taken out of the film and didn’t understand what the emotions where within his character, or really any characters, heads.

I don’t want to say much more, because this film is something you need to experience. What really bothers me is the word that this film will be remade in the coming years. Like very soon! And this is something I want to bring up because after reading the article about this film being remade, I was struck with not understanding why they would remake this film which is only 16 years old.  After reading an article on The Hollywood Reporter, the man behind it Monika Bacardi said…

“Memento is a masterpiece that leaves audiences guessing not just throughout the film, but long after as well, which is a testament to its daring approach. We intend to stay true to Christopher Nolan’s vision and deliver a memorable movie that is every bit as edgy, iconic and award-worthy as the original. It’s a big responsibility to deliver something that lives up to the mastery of the original, but we are extremely excited and motivated to bring this puzzle back to life and back into the minds of moviegoers.”

So wait a moment? Why would you remake something 16 years after its release, not being a franchise or re-boot friendly film like Batman, Superman, Friday the 13th, yet want to stay true to the original… and puzzle people? That means the original has already ruined the puzzle and we will be getting the same film, but with maybe more explosions if Michael Bay gets ahold of it (joking, calm yourself). Well I hope this doesn’t happen, because it’s mainly just a waste of filmmaker’s time. Go watch the Nolan one and enjoy! Memento of course gets a 5/5, and maybe if Michael Bay directs the new one, they can pull in a solid 0.5/5 lol. Hope you enjoyed my rant, and go see it for yourself and tell me what you think!

Score: 5/5

Memento Director: Christopher Nolan Writer: Christopher Nolan Studio: Summit Entertainment Running Time: 113 Minutes Release Date: 9/5/00

Review: The Babadook

Written by guest contributor Cameron Gallagher

It’s rare that an independent horror film has enough traction to be considered one of the scariest films pf all time, and terrifying by the director of “The Exorcist”. But what is even more rare is a horror film with such traction that actually delivers on many levels, and The Babadook did this 100%! I consider myself a “Horror Fanatic” as well as “Horror Analyst” (sounds comical right?). But in all seriousness, I really like to break down horror films and try to find the best of the best. Films like The Conjuring and basically anything by James Wan has impressed me, but recently I have been very disappointed with horror films (other than the ones I mentioned) because they fail to have another plot within the horror film. Other than the “lets scare the crap out of you” plot (which isn’t even a plot). The Babadook succeeded incredibly in its attack at telling a disturbing story of a single mother with a troubled kid, and that is what makes this film so uncomfortable. It’s so believable and incredibly troubling.

The Babadook follows the story I just told you, but after the troubled kid finds a strange book telling the story of The Babadook, things around the house become even stranger. This movie has some incredible cinematography. Just very clever lighting and camera work to create suspense and unease during the film, but never once did it seem to overpower any part of the story, where it seemed too over the top or strange.

The BabadookLet’s talk about The Babadook itself. Now this film was originally marketed as a “Creature Feature” but if your quick to look past it, you’ll end up with the same feeling after watching The Village (no, not that bad) but remember, although this is a horror about a creature, that is not the main point of the story. This is the story about the pain and suffering a family has when losing a loved one (father and husband in this case) Now with that being said, The Babadook is real! Make no mistake, this isn’t some M. Night fake out crap, but just remember that this is deeper than what it seems.

Let’s talk about the creature itself. It is quite honestly terrifying. It could be the scariest character and creature in cinema history. I just wish there was more of it. Granted, it was the perfect amount for the film, but it was terrifying. The Babadook was so surreal in the sense of its nature, body type, and even wardrobe. It had an almost fantasy vibe to it, but was the sound it made is by far the scariest sound any creature has ever made. If I ever answered the phone and heard “Ba-Ba-dook…DOok…DOOK!!” I would literally shit my pants!

This movie hit all of the high points for me, and even though the ending was weird and felt a little off in the scheme of things, I think it fit the way the film needed to end, and that’s why I give The Babadook a well-deserved 4/5. If that ending was a little better, and maybe a few scarier moments it would be a 5/5 for sure! Please go check it out and tell me what you think!

P.S. Buy the Cool Pop-Up Cover Blu-Ray Edition…it is an awesome movie, but the case is spectacular!

Score: 4/5

The Babadook Director: Jennifer Kent Writer: Jennifer Kent Studio: IFC Films/ Entertainment One Running Time: 94 Minutes Release Date: 1/17/14

Review: The Revenant

Written by guest contributor Cameron Gallagher

I’ve never sat in a theater before where I felt like I was experiencing the film, not watching it. Experiencing every emotion and being pulled through the experiences of the characters frame by frame. Experiencing “PURE ART” at 24 frames per second. This is what I felt while watching The Revenant. It is an absolutely breathtaking film, outstanding acting, and an amazing story.

The Revenant is inspired by true events and tells the story of Hugh Glass and his fight for survival while trying to find revenge after being left for dead. I don’t want to give away much more of the storyline because it is one that is MUCH better experiencing, than just hearing.

The-Revenant_IMAX-posterLet me first start off by saying and you can quote me on this… THIS IS THE GREATEST CINEMATOGRAPHY I’VE EVER SEEM. Yes, it took some while to finally decide that it was. Being a filmmaker myself, I know what it takes to even light one small shot, or nailing the perfect exposure outside, and this film BLEW me away! This film was filmed in 100% natural light with no use of artificial light and I could not believe what I was seeing. Beautiful landscapes, smoke and fire, fog, epic wide close ups, long battle shots. I was sitting in my seat completely stunned by what I was seeing. I would see the film JUST for the visuals.

The ccting of this film is spectacular. If Leo does not win Best Actor for this picture, I will lose faith in the Academy. With little dialogue, Leo completely transformed into a character that I could relate with, even though I am not a trapper in the 1800’s left for dead… that’s impressive. The physicality of this film is phenomenal too! It is purely brutal. Blood, death, and the bear mauling!! That scene could be one of the most suspenseful and blood curdling scene I’ve ever seen.

From a filmmaking standpoint, this film could be one of the greatest of all time. The story is so heartfelt. Genuine. Compelling. Everything you would want in a screenplay, but not only that it felt so original. It didn’t feel like some recycled garbage or overly action packed story of revenge. I also loved the message about Native Americans. Large portion of my close ancestors/family (Grandparents and Great Grand Parents) are full-blooded Native American, and it was nice to see a film that showed the truth about how Native Americans could be brutal, and seemed like “villains” but had been completely taken advantage of and killed in large amounts to steal their land.

The Revenant hit every level for me. This was the greatest cinematic experience of 2015 for me. I could not think of a single thing I didn’t like about this movie. Please go check it out, I promise you won’t be sorry!

Score: 5/5

The Revenant Director: Alejandro Inarritu Writer: Michael Punke Studio: 20th Century Fox Runtime: 156 Minutes Release Date: 12/16/15

Review: The Assassin

Written by guest contributor Cameron Gallagher

Martial Arts films can be that of elegance, beauty, and a cinematic experience unmatched… or they can be like The Assassin, dry, uneventful, and quite honestly boring. When I first received The Assassin I was undeniable excited considering this had won Best Director at Cannes along with being what looked like a spectacular Martial Arts “revenge” style film, but to my honest disappointment this was far from that. As I was watching the film with my wife, we both tried to convince ourselves “something better was coming” and “is this amazing or terrible?” This film had me on the edge of my seat, because my ADHD was begging for something to happen.

The Assassin follows the story of a woman Nie Yinniang, who is an assassin who kills corrupt government officials. After refusing to kill a man in front of his son, she is punished and is sent to kill a man she was once to marry… who is also her cousin.

The Assassin takes place during the Tang Dynasty in China, but at some times during the film I wasn’t sure it’s timing or place. It almost felt like it could be in some modern world out there.

The AssassinI’m going to be honest, I was trying to like this film. I really was. I tried with every muscle I had to watch this and feel like I was watching an award winning film, but I couldn’t. Nothing felt right to me. Let’s talk about the cinematography. This film changed its aspect ratio several times for some effect. Now a lot of films have done this such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, or Interstellar, but for this film they felt unneeded and almost put there for the sake of changing cinematography.  There was shot after shot of things that made no sense, and I’m someone who looks for symbolism within cinematography, but it just wasn’t there. Don’t get me wrong it was very appealing and wonderfully lit in most cases, but just wasn’t enough to excite me. The other thing that was quite annoying at times, is the camera would sit in a corner for a 10-minute dialogue scene. Now that would be entertaining if this was The Shinning, but considering some of these 10-minute scenes, sometimes not a single word was said.

This film is DEATHLY slow, and I saw The Revenant and Titanic. Being a long film isn’t the issue, it’s how you break it and pace the film. This film’s pacing was off by a lot. A Martial Arts film needs to find that balance between actual fighting and the “downtime” of moving sub-plots along, but The Assassin failed to hold that balance. There was about all of 4-5 fight scenes, and generally most were over within 30 seconds. I was incredibly disappointed in the lack of combat scenes, especially because when I saw the 30 seconds of fighting, it was AMAZING!

Now, I hate to sound like I’m hating on a film, but I tried SO HARD to like this movie. It felt like it had an incredible amount of potential, but was wasted on insanely long scenes with almost no dialogue that felt most times meaningless. I love long shots, long scenes, but when they are filled with emotion, and The Assassin failed to make me care for a single character.

The one thing I will say about this film that was downright awesome, was the production value. Set pieces to locations were absolutely amazing! This film felt authentic in its production design, even though at times it felt modern, I never questioned its authenticity.

Overall I was very disappointed in a good film that could have been spectacular, especially considering the hype for this film. Please, go check it out for yourself and tell me what you think!

Score: 2/5

The Assassin Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien Writers: Hou Hsia-Hsien, Chu Tien-Wen, Hsieh Hai-Meng, Zhong Acheng Studio: Central Motion Pictures/WellGoUSA Running Time: 105 Minutes Release Date: 1/26/16

Review: Sisters

Written by guest contributor Cameron Gallagher

Sisters is a film based around two things, and only those two things only. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Feeling like a midlife crisis version of Project X, Sisters didn’t only disappoint because of its lack of originality and abundance of montages, but I was disappointed in Tina Fey in particular in how her role felt so forced and honestly not even a bit funny.

Sisters is about two middle-aged sisters, on total different sides of life. Tina Fey, living in her friend’s kitchen with a daughter who doesn’t care to be around her, lives in the remembrance of her party days, wishing she could have it back. Amy Poehler on the other hand, is a respected and well off divorcee, who is to straight up to date or even socialize properly.

Sisters PosterAs their parents sell their childhood house, the two decide to revive their high school parties and create the Project X of their generation. BUT… this movie did none of that excitement for me. This film felt like a jumble of party scenes mashed together by “compelling” dialogue and exposition.  This movie was so bad I honestly don’t have a lot to say about it. The cinematography was very boring.

Probably the worst part of this entire film was its climax. The climax of this film was so ridiculous and beyond dumb, that I almost didn’t believe it was going to be the height of the movie. I never once felt that there were stakes.

I didn’t enjoy any moment of this except for one. When a character is playing charades with two others after snorting “Stevia.” I died laughing… otherwise I didn’t laugh once. Overall I would not suggest seeing this movie AT ALL, go see Star Wars again or The Revenant.

Score: 2/5

Sisters Director: Jason Moore Writers: Paula Pell Studio: Universal Pictures Running Time: 118 Minutes Release Date: 12/9/15

Review: The Hateful Eight

Written by guest contributor Dave Fox

At some point, all genius filmmakers lose their way. Francis Ford Coppola made Jack. Steven Spielberg was behind the camera for Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Michael Scorsese directed Gangs Of New York. And after the near-perfect run of three films that kicked off his career, Quentin Tarantino can join the list of directors who lost their way after following up Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown with four films that wasted good ideas and even better casts.

That's not to say that lost directors can't make comebacks. Lincoln and Bridge Of Spies proved Spielberg still had the chops to make a good film, while Scorsese scored hits with Shutter Island and The Wolf Of Wall Street. For many, the hope was that The Hateful Eight would set Tarantino on the path back to greatness.

It certainly has a promising premise. In an unhealed, post civil war America, bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his carriage driver O.B. Jackson (James Parks) are transporting wanted murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock to be hanged. When they are caught in a blizzard they pick up two fellow travelers - bounty hunter and disgraced former solider Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and the would-be new Sheriff of the town Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins).

the-hateful-eight-posterUnable to reach Red Rock due to the snowfall, they stop over at a cabin called Minnie's Haberdashery, which is in the temporary control of a mysterious Mexican named Senor Bob (Demian Bichir). There they meet others bound for Red Rock and beyond - the hangman of Red Rock, Oswald Mobray (Tim Roth), ex-Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) and sullen cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). Ruth soon deduces that one - or more - of the inhabitants of the haberdashery are in league with Domergue and plotting her escape. He forms an uneasy alliance with Warren to find out who's plotting against him. In the meantime, there's also a rescue plot staged by Domergue's brother Jody (Channing Tatum) to deal with.

The plot and setting are reminiscent of the classic Reservoir Dogs, the film that launched Tarantino's career, but the similarities don't extend much further than that. The idea of these characters, each with their own rich backstory and shady motivation, in a tense standoff is an exciting one, but sadly a film that could be a thrilling ride is instead a slog - The Hateful Eight is as slow as a horse trudging through a blizzard. The film takes an age to get the haberdashery, and when it does it still moves, as John Ruth would say, "molasses-like".

There are more problems here than the pacing, though. Tarantino's films have always relied on the writer/director's ear for dialogue, but in the Western setting, his attempts at period-speak often hit the ear wrong. Thankfully he has a cast of talented actors who can, at times, spin gold from his thin threads. Samuel L. Jackson's easy charisma and underlying menace carry the film, while Walton Goggins gives the kind of scene stealing performance that can catapult a career into the stratosphere (even if his Gomer Pyle-esque accent takes some getting used to). Jennifer Jason Leigh, meanwhile, as the cackling unrepentant outlaw Daisy Domergue, imbues the unlikeable character with an unexpected resilience.

Elsewhere, Roth plays Mobray with a twinkly-eyed sense of fun that suggests he studied Christoph Waltz' Django Unchained performance closely, but Maden is underused as the gruff Joe Gage and General Smithers doesn't give Bruce Dern much of a chance to flex his acting muscles. Tatum excels, cast against type in a small role, and his scenes here suggest he could make a menacing villain in the right project.

It's the interplay between the actors that saves the film from sinking under its own weight. By this point in his career, Tarantino is clearly in love with his own voice: rather than edit Kill Bill down into a manageable film, he split it in two. Half of Death Proof was entirely unnecessary, but was somehow spared the cutting room floor. Both Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained were flabby and contained unneeded detours that distracted from the story. The hope was that The Hateful Eight would bring Tarantino back to his roots. But it did not do so. Remember, Reservoir Dogs ran at a taught 99 minutes. Instead of that, this film runs to a bloated 167 minutes.

Clearly someone, somewhere, needs to make sure Tarantino harshly edits his films in future - but let's face it, it won't happen. No one will say no to Quentin as long as his films keep bringing in money, and they do. Those of us who were once enraptured by his genius will have to simply hope that he realizes where he has gone wrong, and knows how to fix it. Maybe then the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino will finally live up to his lofty reputation.

Score: 3/5

The Hateful Eight Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino Studio: Double Feature Films Running time: 167 minutes Release date: 12/30/15

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Written by guest contributor Dave Fox

Visionary director George Miller has taken a long and winding road back his trademark post-apocalyptic world, Max Rockatansky's home, "The Wasteland". Following the poorly received third installment in the Mad Max trilogy, Beyond Thunderdome, Miller's directing career took a turn as he spent time behind the camera for the Babe sequel and two films about dancing CGI penguins.

It's not the case that Miller had no desire to make another Mad Max film. Possibilities for a fourth film and/or a reboot were mooted for decades - at one point in the 90s it looked as though it would be an animated film - but as the franchise's star, Mel Gibson, aged and became less and less of a bankable star, it seemed less likely that a new Mad Max would ever see the light of day.

Against the odds, in 2015 we were finally able to return to Miller's hectic fever-dream of an Aussie apocalypse. Despite rumours of a cameo, Gibson didn't appear, replaced in the title role by Tom Hardy. It's much more of a sequel than reboot, though really it could function as either. Mad Max: Fury Road doesn't bother with an origin story or exposition, it barely bothers with plot: it throws you in head first to a fully formed world and invites you along for the ride.

A1Y9Cqo1FmL._SL1500_The film is almost nothing but a spectacular car chase, reminiscent of the final 20 minutes of 1981's second Mad Max installment The Road Warrior - only louder and even more spectacular. What plot there is concerns Max being captured early on in the desert citadel run by terrifying despotic demi-god Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe has five "wives" locked up to sire him a healthy heir, but when they escape in a petrol tanker piloted by an ex-wife Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Joe's army give chase - and Max gets caught up in the conflict.

When the film draws breath around 20 minutes in after continuous carnage, it may be the first time you draw breath too. It's easy to understand why most films aren't made with skeletal plots and stunt after stunt after stunt - in the wrong hands, Fury Road would be a mess of Michael Bay proportions, but in Miller's hands this recipe for disaster becomes something quite extraordinary.

Also, while plot may be minimal, there's still a message here. There seemed to be a lot of hate online (among knuckle-draggers, to be fair) about the film's supposed feminist overtones, but frankly, should it be controversial in 2015 to have a message of "women are not objects"? The fact that such a thing even still needs to be said shows that, if anything, we need more films willing to take this stand. It's true that really, Imperator Furiosa is the real protagonist, rather than Max, but there's nothing wrong with that. Max has always been an interloper in the lives of others, but Furiosa - with her metal arm and steely gaze - is just as able to hold up an action film as the title character. And Max remains vital to the film, even if he's not always its focus.

Fury Road shows, too, that there's still a place in cinema for practical effects (Fury Road makes relatively minimal use of CGI when compared with many modern blockbusters) and that the action genre isn't as dead as everyone may have thought.

There was a lot of competition for my favourite film of 2015. It was a tough choice, and when thinking about it I changed my mind maybe 3 or 4 times. In the end, I chose Mad Max: Fury Road because I came out the cinema with a grin from ear to ear - and everyone else was the same. It's exciting, it's thrilling, it's tense, it's important in a few ways but more than anything else: it's fun. Ultimately, we go to the cinema to be entertained, because we want to have fun. Mad Max: Fury Road delivers that in spades, and nothing else came close to it for that in 2015.

Score: 5/5

Mad Max: Fury Road Director: George Miller Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy & Nico Lathouris Studio: Kennedy Miller Productions, Village Roadshow Pictures Running time: 120 Minutes Release Date: 5/15/15

Review: The Martian

Written by guest contributor Dave Fox

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be counting down my top 5 films of 2015. Here’s #2, a redemptive sci-fi offering from director Ridley Scott.

After the recent missteps of Prometheus and Exodus: Gods & Kings, Ridley Scott reminded everyone why his name is so revered with The Martian. Based upon the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian has hard science to go with its fiction, a rarity these days.

The film stars Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist who is stranded on Mars when a mission goes awry. Presumed dead by his mission commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Watney is forced to use his intelligence and ingenuity to survive on the hostile dead planet while awaiting rescue by NASA.

The-Martian-movie-posterThis is the second sci-fi film in my top five of the year. Ex Machina is the other, and while it doesn't share that film's philosophical bent, The Martian similarly uses science as a foundation for its fiction thanks to the meticulously-researched novel that is its source. It takes its visual and narrative cues from recent crowd-pleasing space dramas like Gravity and Interstellar (the latter of which also features Damon as an astronaut stranded on a hostile planet) but perhaps its nearest cinematic brethren is Ducan Jones' Moon. While it isn't as quirky as Duncan Jones' effort, both of them feature a lone protagonist talking to himself for much of their runtime.

Not to say that The Martian is dull (nor is Moon, for that matter). Thankfully, Matt Damon is as charismatic a lead as they come, and he imbues Watney with enough intelligence, humour and pathos to hold our interest. He's also supported by an excellent cast that includes Jessica Chastian, Sean Bean, Chetiwel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig and a scene stealing Donald Glover.

The film also looks beautiful, even the dusty red vistas of Mars look awe-inspiring, which is more than you could say of previous Mars-set bore-fests like Mission To Mars, to give just one example of many. The success of The Martian suggests that the problems of Scott's other recent films may be down the script rather than anything else. With a brilliant screenplay from Drew Goddard (World War Z, Cabin In The Woods) and a troupe of actors at the top of their game, Scott proves that with the right tools he can craft an exciting cinematic experience.

As the joke goes, The US government is forever rescuing Matt Damon, but this may well with the best film of all of them in that odd, specific genre. A smart, at times funny, and overall hopeful journey, The Martian helps to prove that there's life in smart sci-fi, and Ridley Scott's career - and life on Mars, too.

Score: 5/5

The Martian Director: Ridley Scott Writer: Drew Goddard (adapted from Andy Weir's novel) Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Running Time: 144 minutes Release Date: 10/02/15

Review: Inside Out

Written by guest contributor Dave Fox

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be counting down my top 5 films of 2015. Here’s #3, a brilliant animated offering from Pixar.

There was a joke doing the rounds online after the first trailer for Pixar's Inside Out dropped. It described the film as the culmination of Pixar's ongoing quest to ask the question "what if [x] had feelings?". It began with "what if toys had feelings?" (Toy Story) through to bugs (A Bug's Life), monsters (Monsters, Inc), fish (Finding Nemo), cars (Cars), rodents (Ratatouille), and robots (WALL-E). Finally, with Inside Out, Pixar had reached the end of the line by asking - what if feelings had feelings?

Thankfully, there's much more going on in Inside Out than that glib joke would suggest. Directed by Pixar favourite Pete Docter, who was also responsible for the poignant-yet-hilarious Up (2009), it's Pixar's greatest achievement to date thanks to a smart script, brilliant performances and visuals as sumptuous as you would expect from Pixar.

Inside Out PosterInside Out ostensibly follows the trials and tribulations of an 11-year-old girl Riley (Kaitlin Dias) as she is uprooted from her happy Midwest life and moved to San Francisco along with her parents. But Inside Out’s real story centres around the emotions that inhabit her brain: Joy ( an impossibly perky Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mandy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyliss Smith). As Riley tries - and fails - to adjust to a new city, a new house, and a new school, negative emotions begin to take hold and when an accident sees Joy and Sadness ejected from the "control room" inside Riley's brain, the odd couple must work together to get back in control before they lose Riley for good.

When I first read about Inside Out's premise I was worried that something as complex as a child's emotional development was being over simplified. The five emotions featured just didn't seem like enough. In practice, though, it works perfectly. Having too many emotions would clutter up the screen and the script, Inside Out manages the tricky feat of streamlining the emotions without dumbing everything down - and make no mistake, this is an intelligent film. It means that unlike some recent Pixar efforts, this really isn't one for small children, it genuinely feels like an adult film. If there's anyone left who doesn't take animation seriously as an art form, they should check out Inside Out and see if it makes them think again.

In the end, Inside Out is a poignant treatise on the importance of sadness, and other negative emotions, in life. Joy realises that she would not exist but for the much-maligned Sadness, and it's a realisation that's the beating heart of the film. In lesser hands this film would come across as corny, cloying and melodramatic. In Pixar's hands it's so much more - their best film yet, and deservedly in contention at the Oscars.

Score: 4/5

Inside Out Director: Pete Docter Writers: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley Studio: Pixar Animation Studios Running Time: 95 Minutes Release Date: 6/19/15