Wednesday, August 16, 2017

[Review] Berlin Syndrome

What starts out as a fairly run-of-the-mill romantic excursion, turns into a hostile nightmare in director Cate Shortland's Berlin Syndrome.

While backpacking in Germany, photojournalist Clare (Teresa Palmer, Lights Out) meets a local dude named Andi (Max Riemelt) and the two become smitten with each other. Andi even playfully jokes about locking her in his apartment because he's so obsessed...only it isn't a joke--he actually locks her in his apartment and won't let her leave! Let's just say the guy transcends the word "Creeper."

From there, we witness Clare's intense struggles to get out, whether it's physical attempts or mind games (at best, both at the same time). The handheld camera and gritty cinematography brings us right into Clare's helpless and claustrophobic point-of-view. Sometimes the picture even blurs and refocuses, emphasizing the overall disorientation of the crisis. And of course, as the title suggests, Clare falls into spells of Stockholm Syndrome--turns out, it can happen anywhere!

This film packs some stressful thrills, but unfortunately, a midsection lull diminishes some of the tension, especially as the film approaches a two-hour runtime. This year's other similar captive thriller Hounds of Love is definitely a more succinct, thoughtful, and compellingly-acted viewing. Still, the gripping end of Berlin Syndrome is worth sticking around for.

( 7/10 )

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Monday, August 14, 2017

[Review] Annabelle: Creation

Ah, creepy dolls. You can't live with them, you can't live without them. The same could be said for prequels and spinoffs. Annabelle: Creation comes as a prequel to a spinoff, which is why it's so surprising that it isn't terrible. Sure, the film has its share of problems, and it doesn't really offer up anything new, but it's a serviceable jump-scare flick for those getting anxious for the Fall season.

David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) is the director of this chapter--which sees a grieving couple (played by Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia) who lost their daughter to a tragic accident--convert their rustic house in the country into a foster home for young girls. But of course, things get frightening when the girls uncover that now iconic old, ominous, eerie-eyed doll who goes by Annabelle.

The typical Annabelle antics ensue: strange noises... head turning... popping up in random places... and making the occupants' lives a living hell. The second half of the film ups the ante and throws any sense of subtlety out the window, unleashing crazy poltergeist activity and demonic intrusions--to the point where the film unfortunately seems to become less about the doll and more about all the surrounding stuff. And given Annabelle's infamy and lore within The Conjuring universe, you sort of wish for a more carefully fleshed out backstory. That said, the film's tendency to deviate from focus allows for an awesomely grisly possessed scarecrow scene, which might remind you of Goosebumps.

Annabelle: Creation is all seen-it-before, but every time you see it, it's still pretty scary.

( 7/10 )

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

[Review] Wakefield

Bryan Cranston stars in the noir-ish and voyeuristic domestic drama, Wakefield. Its cynical dissection of marriage and suburban discontent warrants comparisons to stuff like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. As far as quality, it falls somewhere in between (Gone Girl being the better one, of course).

Howard (Cranston) is an agitated family man. After a quarrel with his wife (played by Jennifer Garner), he has a nervous breakdown and abandons her and their two daughters. But that's not all. Instead of packing up and leaving, he secretly stays in the garage attic and spies on them, like some sort of sadistic experiment to see what they'd do if he disappeared. The film could be titled Guy in an Attic.

It's intriguing to see how this all develops. With such a contained story, a lot of it hinges on Cranston's performance and the blunt tone of his voiceover narration. His character is so self-conscious, so observant, so miserable, so vindictive, and so scathingly sarcastic that it becomes comical--in that black comedy sort of way. As we know by now, Cranston does all of these things well, and he's fine with not being the most likable character. Oh yeah, and he grows a gnarly beard throughout.

Unfortunately, a couple extended flashbacks break up the narrative's momentum, rather than presenting any significant depth or insight. And much like Howard's prolonged time in the attic, the film begins to drag in the second half, especially as his self-sabotaging disappearance becomes increasingly pointless. By then, it's just a matter of waiting to see when Howard will reveal himself, or if he's too far gone. In this case, the beginning is much more interesting than the end.

( 7/10 )

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

[Review] The Incredible Jessica James

Netflix's output of original films seems to be increasing by the month. Some hit. Some miss. But I'm pleased to say that the romantic comedy The Incredible Jessica James is one of the good ones.

Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is an aspiring playwright. Upfront honesty is her thing--which is why she's so open about being bitter from her recent breakup with Damon (played by Lakeith Stanfield "Atlanta", Get Out). But things begin to change when she's set up on a blind date with a modest fellow named Boone (played by Chris O'Dowd). The two basically are polar opposites, but there's notable chemistry between them. A real Let's just see where this goes vibe.

The film's bright and colorful dance/title sequence really sets the tone. This is a fresh, breezy, engaging, and exuberant watch. The script runs on deliciously snappy dialogue, and the film flaunts a visual spunk that's met with enthusiastic editing. Newcomer Jessica Williams proves to be a wonderfully natural lead with a terrific and likely star-making performance. And even over the film's brisk 80-minute runtime, her character's personality is nicely drawn.

The only downfall of The Incredible Jessica James is that it has an episodic slice-of-life feel to it, playing more like a really great TV pilot rather than a well-rounded feature film. Much like Jessica and Boone's sparky but short-lived times together, it leaves you wanting more.

( 7.5/10 )

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

[Review] Lady MacBeth

You could definitely call Lady MacBeth the cousin to this year's My Cousin Rachel. It's another dark and scandalous British period piece set in the mid-1800s. But this cousin is the better of the two.

Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young woman who's been sold into marriage with a dreadfully controlling and unpleasant middle-aged man. Safe to say, she hates it. But when Katherine sparks up a steamy affair with a grounds worker, everything changes as she engages in a chain of rebellion.

"Drab" is the ultimate word that comes to mind when describing this movie. The dour situation... The dingy living quarters... The static camerawork... All the scenes of people getting beaten... "Shit hitting the fan" also comes to mind. There's some nasty confrontations and drastic table turns. This film doesn't dance around the drama, it dives right into it. And just when you think the well might be running dry, something new comes up that raises the stakes and pushes the film into even darker territory.

Newcomer Florence Pugh gives a tremendous central performance that's both tumultuous and commanding. As you can guess, this is far from a feel-good film. But the lead character's transition from sympathetic victim to despicable villain is something jaw-dropping to witness.

( 7.5/10 )

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Monday, August 7, 2017

[Review] Detroit

Following the gritty and gut-wrenching, real life-informed films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow continues her excellence behind the camera with this year's unflinching Detroit. It's a difficult watch, but it's also a vital watch.

The film portrays the Detroit riots of 1967, where civil unrest and police violence turned the heart of the U.S.A. into a hostile warzone. The cast is full of familiar faces, including John Boyega (The Force Awakens), Anthony Mackie (The Avengers), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), along with newcomer Jacob Latimore (who played the lead in this year's under-the-radar Sleight) and the lesser-known Algee Smith, who gives an impressive standout performance here.

It's intense. It's harrowing. And it's racially-charged. We witness maddening injustices, cold-blooded police brutality, and edge-of-your-seat crisis--like the film's big centerpiece - a violent, sweaty, and heart-racing (to put it lightly) raid and interrogation set in the Algiers Motel. And one of the film's most moving scenes takes place in an evacuated theatre where Algee Smith's character (a Motown artist) sings "If You Haven't Got Love" alone. And like Bigelo's past work, the film is very strong from a technical standpoint. The quick-cut editing raises the urgency and reflects the chaos, while the darty handheld camerawork (reminiscent of Paul Greengrass films) immerses us into the action.

Detroit will make you grind your teeth, and it'll leave you breathless. It's not the type of film where you'll walk out with a smile on your face, but it feels like an essential viewing with themes that unfortunately and hauntingly still ring today. Perhaps one of the film's characters says it best: "We're a long way from easy."

* 9/10 *

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

[Review] The Emoji Movie

Ah, emojis... They're a vital part of our day-to-day communication in the smart phone era and social media age. So, of course, someone had to make a big studio movie about them. But The Emoji Movie is proof that some of these novelty concepts don't need to go on the big screen. And let me be clear: this isn't even one of those films that you have to "check out just to see how bad it is." At best, it's a humdrum waste of time. A dismal and derivative pile of dookie.

T.J. Miller (ugh) voices Gene - a designated "Meh" emoji living in Textopolis who's capable of expressing other emotions. When he's ostracized by the town, he embarks on a personal journey to become a "normal", one-dimensional emoji just like everyone else. It's not the most compelling plot setup, especially for us multi-dimensional humans. It really makes no sense. Like, what exactly are the actual consequences if Gene cracks a smile or sheds a tear? Who gives a fuck? What are the other emojis going to do - give him a strange look? Oh wait, they can't.

The "jokes" are so lazy, unimaginative, and on-the-nose that they come across as complete non-jokes, begging for muster up a pity pshhh. At one point, a group of monkeys carrying suitcases say they're ready "monkey business!" It's a surface pun that even Laffy Taffy wrappers would toss into the trashcan emoji. And the script is littered with these things, and the story is just really disengaging. I began to mentally check out of this thing when Gene found himself in a game of Candy Crush, because you know--it's so much fun to watch someone else play Candy Crush.

T.J. Miller's lead vocal performance becomes grating after 10 minutes. I mean, this is the same guy who voices the Mucus in the Mucinex commercials... The film doesn't have much to offer up visually, either. Even some of the most mediocre animated films that have recently hit theaters--like Trolls or Smurfs or Angry Birds--at least have some dazzling imagery to look at. But you can't say the same about The Emoji Movie. It's just so utterly plain. You'd probably be able to see more captivating flourishes of animation on your own phone--like trash dove.

It's best if we just never speak of this movie again.

:poop emoji: / 10

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review] A Ghost Story

What if you could observe your loved ones after you've passed on? That's just one of the questions explored in writer-director David Lowery's existential arthouse creation, A Ghost Story.

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play a nameless couple who've just settled down in a modest new home. But it's not long before Affleck's character is suddenly killed in a car accident right in front of their house. He then comes a ghost (spooky!). We see him in that novelty Halloween costume form, you know--big white sheet over his body with hollow eyes cut out.

It's an intriguing, thought-provoking concept--in general and for a film--to be an invisible witness to the aftermath of your own death, and to see how someone close to you moves on with their life. The grief comes two-fold. And on one hand, the film is dressed as a strange, moody, and head-scratching experiment, and on the other, it's a haunting tale of love and loss, pain and time. What kind of mark did you leave behind? Will your memory last? What about the world and civilization as a whole?

The picture is presented in a square with rounded off corners--it reminded me of looking through a View Master. Which is fitting for the story, because it narrows your focus on the deep intimacy, and its effect is like a slideshow with snapshots of life. There are some very long static takes, where the silence and mundanity are almost confrontational. Sometimes these scenes last too long (the pie eating scene!), to the point where they threaten to diminish the film's cinematic presence.

A Ghost Story definitely isn't for everyone. In fact, it'll probably be one of the most divisive films of the year. A few moments turned me off, as well. But even so, there's an entrancing unpredictability to it, especially as the final stretch keeps tacking on pieces. The ending throws you for a loop, but I guess that's the film's way of tapping into what infinity might mean.

( 7.5/10 )

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

[Review] Girls Trip

Girls Trip is an enjoyable, unfiltered comedy that puts friendship over everything.

Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish make up the "Flossy Posse", a once tight-knit crew of cool college friends whose career paths eventually caused them to drift apart. But that all changes when they reunite for a weekend vacation in New Orleans. As you can guess, things get wild. These girls let loose from the get-go and never really slow down.

The film is packed with funny dialogue, eye-widening gags (and I mean that in more ways than one), and some amusingly over-the-top blunders--like an absinthe trip in the club that might make you squirm, a mishap involving a grapefruit, or the uproarious zipline sequence that involves bursting bladders over a crowd of onlookers. The cast is fully game here, but the absolute standout is the lesser known Tiffany Haddish, who steals every single scene she's in with her raucous hilarity, unabashed audacity, and confrontational attitude. There's also just enough drama beneath all the fun, giving us a sense that things could go wrong at any moment, especially when the dynamics of the group begin to clash as old and new conflicts bubble to the surface.

Girls Trip is as brazenly raunchy as it is genuinely heartwarming, because when it comes down to it, the film is a celebration of those special camaraderies that can last through the thick and thin.

The Flossy Posse is back.

( 8/10 )

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Monday, July 31, 2017

[Review] Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron throws down in Atomic Blonde, an ultraviolent action and espionage thriller from stunt specialist David Leitch, who made his directorial debut with the sensational John Wick.

Berlin. 1989. On the cusp of the wall collapse. Theron plays Lorraine, an icy and immensely skilled spy who teams up (sort of) with a punky firecracker played by James McAvoy, in order to retrieve a compromised list of identities, and most importantly--kick A LOT of ass.

Based on a graphic novel, the film packs a highly stylized visual punch. The cold moon colors... The neon-soaked lighting... The deep shadowy streets... The flush framing that captures it all... It's full notably striking shots. Speaking of notably striking shots--fists, bullets, blunt objects, and sharp blades all land with brutal impact. They want you to imagine the pain. The combat sequences here are just relentless. There's even an unbroken, single-camera fight scene of Theron beating up a bunch of dudes in an apartment stairwell, and it goes on for damn near 15 minutes. It's a tenaciously violent and technically astounding showcase. The film's blaring soundtrack of '80s new wave synchronizes with the mayhem in a way that might remind you of this year's surprise hit Baby Driver.

Charlize Theron, who's no stranger to cutthroat action, is in full command here, and as the late great Stuart Scott would say, she's cooler than the other side of the pillow. As for the plot, this isn't the easiest mission to follow, and it gets more muddled as it goes on. It's who's who story is just too complicated for its own good, which is unfortunate. But even if you get lost amidst the cluster of deception, Atomic Blonde is still an engaging, visceral watch. There's pleasure (and pain) in the details.

( 8/10 )

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

[Review] Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart gives a mesmerizing performance in Personal Shopper, an unorthodox ghost story that consistently intrigues and perplexes.

Maureen (Stewart) works as a personal shopper in Paris. When she gets free time, she hangs out in a big, dusty, creaky house by herself. Why? To attempt to contact her twin brother, who died there.

This isn't the usual supernatural horror film, though. It's more of a slow-burning psychological drama, kind of reminiscent of a really good Irish flick from 2009 called The Eclipse (not to be confused with Twilight: Eclipse of course). There are significant gaps between the scares, but when the scares do come, they're extremely effective. The jolting moments are there, but the film mostly relies on building a dark and eerie atmosphere. And instead of ramping up the tension with music, the film often dwells in silence, which creates an uneasiness as every little noise is amplified. Is it something from beyond? Or just the rickety old house cracking in the wind? These scenes are truly chilling.

Around the midway point, the story takes an even stranger turn as Maureen begins receiving creepy, voyeuristic text messages from an Unknown number. The person (or whatever) on the other end is never quite who you think it is, and that's when the film goes into full mystery and suspense mode. Kristen Stewart is terrific throughout, essentially occupying every scene with a sense of determination, confusion, and anxiety. It's impressively convincing. She genuinely seems like a real person searching for a spirit that may or may not be real.

Personal Shopper keeps you unbalanced. What's in the mind and what isn't? Grief, trauma, delusion, and paranormal activity all seem to be at work. It's the type of film that will make you think, while coming up with your own theories about it, which means it's worth watching more than once. The end is unsettling and ambiguous, and given the nature of the film, you wouldn't expect anything else.

* 8.5/10 *

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

[Review] Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Luc Besson's ambitious Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (there's a hefty title for ya) gleefully transports us to a futuristic universe that dazzles and proliferates. Unfortunately, the film's aggressively mediocre script and underwhelming leads constantly nag at the potential greatness.

After a welcoming space oddity of a prologue, we witness an oasis planet get destroyed and we learn about some vital pearls, as well as a dark anomaly that threatens the sprawling metropolis of Alpha. Special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are tasked with getting to the bottom of it in order to restore the balance. That's the gist of it, at least.

First of all - the visuals are splendid, flooding the screen with eye-popping CGI, nifty sci-fi gizmos, and imaginative art design. It's layered, it's immersive, and it's luminous. The extraterrestrial beings and creatures are familiar though--from the mystical Avatar-like humanoids, to the obnoxious Jar Jar-like wackos, to the Jabba the Hutt-like blobs of rudeness. The narrative get-go is remarkably clunky too. Amidst all the planet and vessel hopping, there's a lot of sigh-worthy exposition dumps, and somehow, it's still not clear what exactly is going on, or what the goal is. Then it basically launches into series of video game-esque action sequences that scream "generic." Speaking of generic, DeHaan and Delevingne are incredibly bland here, and they virtually have no chemistry together. It's as if the casting directors said "Get me two people who always look like they just woke up from a nap." And their romance story feels tired before it even really begins.

The second half fares much better, and that's when the film begins to gain its own identity, especially as our protagonists journey into a place called Paradise Alley--a busy, bonkers, and neon-lit avenue full of eccentric characters and a wily plethora of *ahem* ...underground businesses. This is also where we meet a kooky showman played by Ethan Hawke and take in an entrancing cabaret performance from none other than Rihanna, who plays a shapeshifting alien named Bubble. It's this very sequence that injects the film with a newfound spunk, and honestly, I couldn't help but think how cool a film about Rihanna's character would be instead.

Valerian never takes itself too seriously, and that's probably for the best, because it allows for a couple of funny one-liners and amusing streaks of delightful camp, even though it does veer too far into cheesy territory at times. But that's Valerian, I guess. A beautiful mess.

( 6.5/10 )

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

[Review] Maudie

Sally Hawkins gives an incredible performance in Maudie, a genuinely heartfelt portrait of a modest Canadian folk artist named Maud Lewis.

In the small village of Marshalltown, Nova Scotia--we meet Maud (Hawkins). She's hunched, has a prominent limp, and is a bit peculiar. But what stands out is her sweet personality and passion for painting: flowers, birds, butterflies... Eventually, she gets job working as a live-in maid for Everett (Ethan Hawke), a grunty and distant fellow who lives in a tiny, rustic shack on the backroads.

Things don't go very smoothly at first. Early on, Ethan Hawke's character is so cruel and unlikable that it's difficult to approve of this situation. But eventually, the two form a mutual bond, and things lighten up as Maud begins to exhibit her craft, putting her charming touch on any canvas that she can get her hands on. Pretty soon, the town catches wind of her paintings, and the demand for them goes through the roof. So much so that Maud becomes a nationally renowned artist. With all the knocks at door, and all the money coming in, the dynamics in the household certainly shift.

Fittingly, the film itself is artistically shot, displaying some great views of the picturesque seaside town and its beautiful surrounding landscapes. It also captures the changing of the seasons and the extremities between the hot and cold weather, which is sort of representative of Maud and Everett's complicated relationship. It would be interesting to see a side-by-side image of the shack before and after Maud arrived, because she practically transforms the place with her colors. Sally Hawkins is absolutely fantastic in a performance that I think is Oscar-nom worthy, from her evocative expressions, to her impressive range of emotion, to the deeply-felt depth she embodies the character with. There are definitely some tearjerking scenes that stick with you long afterward.

This story is all about tough lives and how they're lived. How art can be an escape or a coping mechanism amidst the harsh times. And how little old Maudie made the world a nicer place.

* 8.5/10 *

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Monday, July 24, 2017

[Review] Dunkirk

Seminal director Christopher Nolan returns with his newest film, Dunkirk, an expertly crafted World War II thriller that leaves you breathless.

It focuses on the efforts of the Dunkirk evacuation, where upwards of 400,000 British and French soldiers were essentially trapped in a harbor by German forces (also a subject in this year's under-the-radar Their Finest). The hostile narrative is presented through three different perspectives: land, air, and sea.

The film wastes no time plunging into the center of the crisis. It's intense. It's engulfing. And it's immersive. The film's visual scope is nothing short of astounding, giving us a 360-degree impression of the area with expansive views of coastlines, shifty seas, cloudy skies, scattered vessels, and the point where they all converge. The sound design pummels with booming tenacity, and Han Zimmer's clock-ticking score escalates the urgency, while doubling as a racing heartbeat as well as inhales and exhales as the characters dodge bullets and bombs and fight to stay above water. This is a very wet film--to the point where you might feel the urge to throw the characters some towels.

The ensemble cast--including the likes of Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and newcomer Fionn Whitehead--is solid all around. And while there isn't one main protagonist or standout performance, the actor who actually impresses the most is, surprisingly, pop star Harry Styles. He's legitimately good in this, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Aside from a couple varying time frames, Nolan has no major tricks or plot twists up his sleeve with this film, and there aren't any lofty concepts at work. It's a very straightforward, matter-of-fact tale of rescue and survival that's told with minimal dialogue, and it's just as impactful anything he's done.

* 9/10 *

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

[Review] To the Bone

Based on her own real-life experiences, writer-director Marti Noxon's To the Bone adeptly follows the struggles of a young woman battling anorexia.

That young woman is 20-year-old Ellen (Lily Collins), a sarcastic and artistic soul who enters an inpatient group home under the guidance of an unconventional doctor, played by Keanu Reeves (!).

It's a surprisingly subdued film, and for the most part, it avoids melodrama. The narrative approaches difficult subjects of body image, addiction, and illness--with honesty, insight, poignancy, and even humor. Lily Collins gives a really good performance as the central character, but the film refreshingly casts a lot of focus on the rest of the ensemble in the home, too. They're an eccentric and sympathetic bunch, and the way they all interact with each other is the most interesting aspect of the story. We witness them all strive to get better under the same roof together, through the ups and the downs.

Of course, this isn't a definitive depiction of eating disorders, but its intentions come from a good place. Unfortunately, the film's final act delves into some strange existential sequences that just don't feel consistent with everything that comes before it. Still, that 'everything that comes before it' is pretty substantial.

( 7/10 )

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

[Review] Tramps

Released on Netflix back in April, Adam Leon's Tramps is a sprinting street caper with a hint of romance, and it's worth checking out.

Set in New York, the story revolves around Danny (Callum Turner) and Ellie (Grace Van Patten), two young strangers whose lives become intertwined during a botched briefcase exchange. From there, they must team up and scramble in order to track down the correct briefcase. The case's contents are a mystery, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter what's inside.

The whole thing takes place over the span of about 24 hours. Throughout the jaunt, there are dicey mix-ups, complications, and feelings that get in the way. The snappy editing and handheld camerawork captures the hustle and bustle of the city, while giving the film a sense of immediacy and momentum, which is fitting for the brisk 80-minute runtime. Turner and Van Patten both exhibit realism-based performances that blend with the aesthetic. Great comedian and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia even shows up as a small-time crook, and I love the guy, but frankly he seems out of place here.

In terms of themes, concept, and style, Tramps covers well-trodden territory, and it definitely works as a similar companion piece to Leon's previous little indie flick Gimme the Loot. But even though it never feels like you're watching anything new, it won't disappoint if you're a fan of this genre.

( 7.5/10 )

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

[Review] 47 Meters Down

Last year's The Shallows was a surprisingly well-crafted tale of shark attack survival. 47 Meters Down feels more like a secondary version of that, but it still has its moments of suffocating thrills.

While vacationing in Mexico, Lisa (Mandy Moore, fresh off "This Is Us" success) and her sister Kate (Claire Holt), get coerced into scuba-diving down into Great White Shark territory, with just a cage of rusty bars separating them from carnage, because you know, there's nothing like putting yourself in the way of a creature that will tear your limbs off. As you can guess, things go wrong. Terribly wrong.

The majority of the film is set amidst ominous ocean depths--the thick, inky darkness of the water giving the impression that the sharks could come out of nowhere, and at any moment, and they do...striking with major jolts of intensity, while instilling fear, panic and screams. Between the chomping madness, there are a couple of lulls in the midsection, like the scene where the sisters spill their figurative guts to each other, and it's never quite convincing. And let's just say the dialogue isn't this film's biggest strength. The biggest strength, of course, is the sharks. Now they're convincing.

Despite the pitfalls, there's just enough urgent tension, hefty obstacles, wire-snapping setbacks, and shark action to make 47 Meters Down a decent escape from a hot summer day. Plus, Shark Week is approaching!

( 7/10 )

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Monday, July 17, 2017

[Review] War for the Planet of the Apes

This Apes reboot has come a long way since young Caesar--now the saga's wise and weary protagonist--was basking in the arms of James Franco. The latest installment, War for the Planet of the Apes swings further into dystopian darkness, playing as an Exodus-like swan song.

As we check back in with the story's stoic leader, he's a bit more grey. A bit angrier. And he's doing his best to keep his village safe from attacks by human soldiers. But when tragedy strikes Caesar's family, he sets out with a couple of his trusty comrades in order to infiltrate a military base and take down its sadistic, Apocalypse Now-esque Colonel (played intimidatingly by Woody Harrelson).

The film is part grueling journey, part prison camp escape thriller. There are surprises around every corner, up every tree, through every tunnel, and amidst every cold and snowy mountain. Let's just say "Game of Thrones" isn't the only place where Winter Has Come... And while the film unleashes a couple of explosive battles, this time around it casts more focus on the smaller, quieter moments--which pack just as much power in their somber plot turns and poignant imagery. This definitely isn't the easiest watch. If it weren't for Caesar's commendable will and the funny new comic relief character "Bad Ape" who dons a blue jacket vest, this would almost be a complete downer. In fact, the film's second half is essentially like watching a Holocaust drama, with just a slight window of hope.

Michael Giacchino's musical score heightens the intensity and deepens the emotion. And like its predecessor, the film's technical proficiency astounds--from the immersive sound design, to the lush cinematography, to the startlingly realistic renderings of the apes and the impressive motion-capture work. And yes, Andy Serkis deserves to be praised for his behind-the-effects performance as Caesar.

In the end, the 21st century Caesar solidifies himself as one of the best on-screen heroes of this generation. And War for the Planet of the Apes is a STRONG conclusion to an excellent trilogy.

* 9/10 *

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

[Review] Okja

Director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) partners up with Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment for Okja--a weird, sublime, and ambitious eco-parable that can be seen exclusively on Netflix.

Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) lives in the mountains of South Korea with her pet "superpig" named Okja--a snuggly mix between a pig and a hippo. It's not the most convincing CGI job, but you just have to roll with it. Anyway, when Okja is taken by the controversial Mirando Corporation (led by a wicked and teethy Tilda Swinton), Mija must go desperate lengths to get her beloved companion back.

Like the superpig at the center of this tale, the film itself is also a peculiar hybrid, flinging a delirious mix of oddball tones and eclectic genres at us. It's a whimsical and poignant coming-of-age tale of girl and creature, a dystopian thriller of worldly proportions, an absurdist humor piece of consumer culture, a cartoonish satire of corporate corruption, and an in-your-face exploit of animal cruelty. And somehow, it still has room for Jake Gyllenhaal's wackiest character to date.

This is a film that refuses to settle for one route. In fact, it just proliferates in all directions at once. And as jarring and jumbled as it is, it somehow works and coheres the more the story progresses and unfolds. Bong Joon-ho stages the provocative vision as a frenzied circus that's ready to combust at any moment. And while we've seen all these elements separately before, we've never seen them together quite like this. So Okja definitely gets points for being super unique.

( 8/10 )

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

[Review] The Hero

Sam Elliott leads the way in The Hero, a familiar but nicely layered portrait of an aging star longing for the success of their prime.

Lee (Elliott) is a former Western movie icon. Nowadays, he'd just like to land a role that doesn't involve voicework for BBQ sauce commercials. He also gets invites to Lifetime Achievement Award ceremonies, but they only add salt to his wounds. As far as his personal life goes, he's trying to get back in touch with his estranged daughter (played by Krysten Ritter), and he even sparks up a relationship with a spontaneous woman named Charlotte (Laura Prepon), who's around his daughter's age (kind of awkward). Oh yeah, and he's just received that damned cancer diagnosis.

Sam Elliott's fantastic performance is the main draw here. It's magnificently graceful. It's deeply self-deprecating. And there's a lot of emotional turmoil behind those thick eyebrows and mustache. The film is interspersed with Western-style dream sequences that not only intensify Lee's nostalgia, but also function as metaphors for him attempting to run away from his own fate.

But despite the sad story and melancholy tone, there are plenty of sunnier moments along the way. Laura Prepon's character is a beam of light, who also spends her nights as a stand-up comic, which sets up some unexpected appearances from Ali Wong and Cameron Esposito. Then there's all the amusing times when Lee goes over to the house of his only friend (played by Nick Offerman in manchild form) to smoke a lot of weed, watch movies, and relieve stress.

The Hero doesn't quite meet the greatness of its avuncular films (like The Wrestler or Crazy Heart), and its ending doesn't completely satisfy, but it's still moving to witness Sam Elliott in such stellar form.

( 8/10 )

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

[Review] The House

The House is so bad that I felt like it owed ME money.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play Scott and Kate, a couple of suburban stiffs who, with their clearly unreliable friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), haphazardly open up an illegal casino in a basement in order to help pay for their daughter's college tuition. We all know college is expensive, but in the words of the wise DJ Khaled: "Congratulations... you played yourself." 

Not a good idea. And neither was this film. Or at least the execution of it. I immediately knew things were gonna be rough when it opened with the overplayed and on-the-nose song "My House" by Flo Rida. And despite the funny cast, the film can't land a joke to save its life. It's almost exhausting to watch how hard it tries. I may have mustered up half a chuckle throughout the entire thing.

It's just not that amusing to watch a bunch of dull and obnoxious adults gamble, fight, and reap money off of each other, especially when there isn't even a chip of effective humor or satire to it. The achingly thin premise stretches into a ridiculously vile and violent third act of underground crime cliches and a loosely strung together plot involving cops, city supervisors, mobsters, and debts--making the film seem longer than it really is, and double as miserable.

The House is a loathsome exercise in bad taste. The dice rolled, and so did my eyes.

( 3/10 )

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[Review] The Big Sick

Kumail Nanjiani writes and stars in The Big Sick, a semi-autobiographical dramedy that is as delightful as it is poignant. It's part Don't Think Twice and "Master of None". Part 50/50 and "Girlfriend in a Coma" by The Smiths. And it's one of the best films of the year so far.

Kumail (portraying himself) is a Pakistani immigrant in Chicago, working as an Uber driver by day, an amateur comedian by night. He's also a compulsive liar, but with good intentions, if that makes any sense. Anyway, when he begins dating Emily (Zoe Kazan), some major obstacles arise in their relationship--like Kumail's wholly traditional parents (Zenobia Shroff & Anupam Kher) who are adamant about arranging a marriage for him. And then there's a serious medical emergency (ah, now the title makes sense) that strikes uncertainty in Kumail and Emily's future together.

Co-written with Emily V. Gordon, the film conveys an excellent script. It's thoughtful, clever, thorny, and heartfelt all at once. The humorous dialogue is always laced with an undercurrent of tragedy, and that's very much indicative of the film's overall tone. There are moments that will make you laugh out loud, as well as ones that will tear your heart out and bounce it on the floor. All of the gooey yet effective streaks of sentimentality feel entirely earned. Oh, and the callbacks. The callbacks are really good. But one of the most interesting aspects about the story is the exploration of the dynamic between Kumail and Emily's parents (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, who are both pleasantly fantastic here). Like its own rollercoaster--it constantly fluctuates between hostility and bonding amidst a personal crisis. Also great, of course, is the leading man Kumail, with a wide-ranging performance that easily stands head and shoulders above his smaller roles.

The Big Sick is about the complicated relationships we encounter. The doozies that life drops. The intricacies of family and culture. And the power of comedy that can sometimes help us through it all.

* 9.5/10 *

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Monday, July 10, 2017

[Review] Spider-Man: Homecoming

If it seems like there's been a lot of Spider-Man iterations on the big screen over the last 15 years, that's because there has been. The latest, Spider-Man: Homecoming, is a merger of sorts, pulled in by the almighty Marvel Cinematic Universe. And while this film can't help but have some Spidey déjà vu, it's still a lot of swooping, sticky fun.

How does one even concentrate in high school after they've become the Spider-Man and done insane stuff like fighting alongside the Avengers? How does one balance studying with keeping the streets safe, all while getting home in time for Aunt May's (Marisa Tomei) dinner? This is the web of conflicts that Peter Parker (Tom Holland) wrestles with here, while under the watchful eye of his mentor, Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).

Even though Spider-Man may feel the weight of the world on his shoulders, the film itself is light, jubilant, and spiked with humor. While it boasts some impressively rendered setpieces, like a death-defying close call at the Washington Monument, or a splitting debacle on a Staten Island ferry, the film's most endearing moments come when Peter is hanging out with his best friend (Jacob Batalon), gushing over his crush (Laura Harrier), and during the teen comedy stretches and high school blunders that are always just a few steps away from becoming a "Degrassi" episode. And speaking of things getting real, the stakes skyrocket when Peter must face off against the story's powerful winged villain, Vulture (played with a teeth-grinding grit by Michael Keaton), who runs on "alien junk."

One of the keys to the film is that we never get the impression that Spider-Man is invincible, or that things come too easy for him. After all, he's a rookie in the superhero world (and, again, only 15 years old). A freshman just trying to figure everything out. The talented Tom Holland is great for the role, playing Spidey with a wide-eyed glee and a bounce in his step, while still remaining vulnerable and virtuous. It's these aspects that make the seen-it-before tropes tolerable. Fresh, even.

So what's next? Prom? Graduation? Oh, and be sure to *stick* around after the credits.

* 8.5/10 *

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

[Review] Beatriz At Dinner

Salma Hayek gives a splendidly tenacious performance in Beatriz At Dinner, a meditative and strikingly relevant drama of culture clash.

Beatriz (Hayek) is a spiritual soul, making a living at a holistic healing center, and as a personal masseuse for a haughty couple (Connie Britton & David Warshofsky) in the Hollywood Hills. One day, they invite Beatriz to stay for dinner with a few other guests. And well, it doesn't take long for things to get uncomfortable, as Beatriz finds herself at odds with the table's bigot and controversial real estate mogul (played by John Lithgow).

The whole film takes place over the course of one evening, and director Miguel Arteta stages the tension-filled scenes with an unhurried but substantial touch. Through character backgrounds and cross-table conversations, the topics of racism, class, privilege, immigration, property seizing, and different views of the American Dream arise--and that's all before dessert! It isn't subtle, but in a political climate of drastics, not a lot is...

Salma Hayek is the guiding force of the film, embodying a richly drawn character who's all at once compassionate and sensitive, hard-nosed and confrontational. And as despicable as John Lithgow's character is, he plays the jerk role incredibly well, and with a Trumpian arrogance that is, let's be real--probably not a coincidence.

Just like the conflicts in the world today, the film portrays an ongoing struggle and unfortunately offers no easy foreseeable resolutions. Beatriz is a healer, but ironically, the pain that shows in her own face is undeniable. And like the film's unsettling ending--it haunts.

( 7.5/10 )

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

[Review] Despicable Me 3

I'll always stand by my adoration of the first Despicable Me film, but I found its sequel Despicable Me 2 to be unsurprisingly mediocre, and its Minions spin-off to be mildly fun at best. So I wasn't really stoked for Despicable Me 3. And well, my feelings haven't changed.

Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) is now happily living with his new wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and their three adoptive daughters, and yes, the Minions. But things get flipped when Gru and Lucy are fired from the Anti-Villain League. What ensues is an episodic smorgasbord of a plot involving a former '80s child star named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) who's bent on world domination, Gru getting pulled back to the villainy side by his wacky (and painfully obnoxious) twin brother, a random search for a unicorn, and a Minion Idol side story that should've been bopped from the air.

Somehow, there's a whole lot of nothing and too much of everything going on at the same time. Amidst the colorful and zippy animation, the film is stuffed with frantic action sequences that all just blur together, an onslaught of try-hard gags, tiresome Minion antics, scattershot humor, and a soundtrack by Pharrell Williams that sounds completely phoned in. There's also even less heart and warmth this time around. It's a nearly unwatchable mess. An assault on your senses - as if it's constantly tapping on your shoulder, waving stuff in front of your face, and yelling in your ear. The whole thing is wildly disjointed and incredibly unfocused. In fact, there are THREE different directors listed in the film's credits, and the incoherency definitely shows.

This movie isn't just despicable, it's an abomination. Oh brother, indeed.

( 3/10 )

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[Review] Baby Driver

Consistently buzzing writer/director Edgar Wright returns to deliver Baby Driver, a playlist-inspired action flick with a stylish, high-octane spin of its own.

Ansel Elgort plays Baby. That's his name. He's a quiet and mysterious music junkie (his iPod earbuds rarely leave his ears), who also happens to be an amazingly skilled getaway driver for a bankrobbing crew (which includes Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx). Baby wants to get out of the game though, so he can run away with Debora (Lily James), a down-to-earth girl he meets at the diner. But unfortunately, that won't be so easy under the intimidating grasp of his boss, played by a sly Kevin Spacey.

It's a film that fires on all cylinders. The flashy editing and kinetic camerawork... The escalating conflicts within each beat of the narrative... The way the rock & soul music synchronizes with the exhilarating tempo of the chase sequences and shootouts...  It's all crafted with thematic precision. There's even a bit of sweetness to it as Baby cares for his deaf, wheelchair-bound foster parent (played by CJ Jones). And fittingly, there are several cameos from significant musicians along the way--from renowned Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, to indie-pop singer Sky Ferreira, to southern rap artists Big Boi and Killer Mike (I mean, the film does take place in Atlanta).

As fun as the film is, the ending stretch does drag on a bit longer than it needs to, but Baby Driver is still guaranteed to be an electrifying trip to the movies. Just be careful driving on the way home. ;)

* 9/10 *

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

[Review] Transformers: The Last Knight

The opening scene of Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth installment of Michael Bay's exhaustingly crappy Transformers series, boasts a myriad of giant spiked fireballs raining down over a medieval battle, and one of the first lines of dialogue yelled is "This is what the end looks like!" And I couldn't help but think "This better be the end..."

With all the talk of Lancelot, Merlin, and magic, for a moment I wondered if I accidentally walked into a straggling matinee showing of the latest King Arthur film. But no, amidst all the swords and dragons and aliens, this is actually a Transformers movie, and Mark Walhberg is back to save the day (he must've requested extra shots of his triceps this time), and he's very much in the "Not all Transformers are bad" camp. Anthony Hopkins even shows up to prophesize the events.

It's as if Michael Bay set out to make the messiest and most bloated movie possible, and succeeded. It's like a kid tossed all their different action figures into a box together and Bay took it and decided to morph it into a plot. A very awful and incoherent one. This is a hodgepodge of dizzying, headache-inducing chaos. A stinky clunker of clashing CGI metal. An explosive cinematic fart that seems to be making things up as it goes along. There's also some painstakingly corny schmaltz that shows up about every 10 minutes. And did I mention that the runtime is almost three hours long?

This thing is also riddled with uncomfortably forced and cringeworthy dialogue that sounds like it was written by an asshole. But a couple of the lines are hilarious, whether intentional or not, like when Josh Duhamel orders Mark Walhberg to drop his gun, and Wahlberg says "I'm not dropping shit." Either way, there was a lot of shit dropped throughout this movie.

( 2/10 )

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Monday, July 3, 2017

[Review] The Beguiled

Director Sofia Coppola returns with The Beguiled, a southern gothic suspense tale that stings with promiscuity and constantly pulls the curtains back on innocence.

Nicole Kidman is the headmistress of the Farnsworth Seminary, a sheltered school for young girls - Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning are cast as the notable residents. Things get shaken up when a wounded Yankee (played by Colin Farrell) stumbles from a Civil War battle onto their secluded property. After they nurse him back to health, boundaries are crossed, tensions boil, and legs are lost.

This is a dark film, but not as much in tone as I mean actual the picture. The moody mansion is steeped in natural, shadowy light--the candles hardly making their presence known--the sun barely peeking through the surrounding trees before it fades at the oft shaded windows. It all comes with a smirking sense of humor, too. The dialogue is laced with not-so-subtle innuendos, while deceit fills the humid air as the screwy dynamics of the house unfurl and we witness the conniving, highly secretive interactions the characters have behind each other's backs.

It's exquisite drama. Beautifully costumed. Superbly acted all-around. And even though The Beguiled doesn't exactly ignite any new revelations in the end, it's still a juicy and potent dish.

( 8/10 )

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

[Review] The Lure

If by chance you've been in the market for a moonlit musical horror story about killer mermaids, then let Agnieszka Smockzynska's The Lure be the one to pull you in...

This aquatic eccentricity swirls around two mermaid sisters, Golden (Michalina Olszanska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek). Their fins---not of the friendly Disney variety--they're realistically fishy, scaly, slimy, and kind of sea-monstrous. When the sisters are brought onto land, they're hired at a seedy underground nightclub. All the while, one seeks human love, while the other seeks human flesh.

It's as bizarre as it sounds, and entirely unique. A Polish peculiarity. Much of the duration (maybe a little too much) consists of Magic Mike-esque cabaret performances (or should I say Magic Mermaid), as well as full-on musical numbers that even La La Land would be impressed by--if it were high on potions. It's all terrifically-shot, entrancing even. The mise-en-scène appears as if one of those exotic vintage oddity shops came to life and got cinematic... and gruesome.

In addition to being such an imaginative hybrid, The Lure also answers the age-old question: "How do mermaids go to the bathroom?" Well, they don't.

( 7/10 )

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

[Review] Rough Night

Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoë Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, and Kate McKinnon make up the squad of hardcore partiers in Rough Night, a raucous if over-the-top romp that lives up to its title.

That squad, all former college buds, reunite 10 years later for a bachelorette weekend. Now--all much more mature--they vow to keep it classy. You know - refrain from anything that could get you fired if you got tagged in it on Facebook. But once the alcohol starts flowing (and the coke begins snorting), things get crazy--so crazy that they accidentally kill a male stripper!

For the most part, the raunchy humor actually works here, as the script is full of wild slapstick and dirty but clever one-liners. The Hangover is an obvious comparison to make, but the film's antics often recall the surprisingly good Neighbors 2, while capturing the wit and awareness of a post-Tinder zeitgeist. And while the film has a hard time cramming these five different personalities into the story, each character still has their moments and they all demonstrate great comic timing.

Kate McKinnon, despite donning an awkward Australian accident, emerges as a quirky standout, as she often does. And while we love Scarlett Johansson's more... serious roles, it's amusing to see her engage in a freewheeling flick like this. Men are intentionally put on the backburner here, but the ones that do show up are comedy sensations like Bo Burnham, Eric Andre, and Hasan Minhaj, who are all forced to play it straight, which is amusing in and of itself.

Rough Night is fittingly wild, scatter-brained, hyperbolic, and completely ridiculous, but that same sense of wicked spontaneity is exactly what makes it a fun time.

( 7/10 )

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Monday, June 26, 2017

[Review] All Eyez On Me

A biopic is a difficult thing to make pop. Especially a music biopic. And especially a music biopic about an endlessly iconic and highly influential hip-hop artist like Tupac. 2015's Straight Outta Compton hit the right notes with its exuberant portrait of NWA's rise, giving some hope that maybe the following Tupac rendition could do the same. But unfortunately, All Eyez On Me just doesn't have the same energy and effective craft behind it, and it falls disappointingly flat.

The film covers the life, death, and legacy of Tupac Shakur (played by Demetrius Shipp Jr.). Of course, a large chunk of it involves the revolutionary rapper's mid-90s reign--both the high points and the downfalls, from prison time to music industry success. Considering Pac's brilliant, complicated, and contradictory nature, there's a lot to delve into in terms of character study and musical genius, but the picture painted here is mostly clumsy, one-dimensional, and not quite as deep as it wants to be.

For a story about a larger-than-life lyricist and rapper, the film itself lacks any sense of poeticism or flow. Structurally, it never seems like it can decide where it wants to go. How much time should we spend on this? What should we cover? What should we omit? In turn, the narrative comes off like an unfocused visual checklist of someone perusing Tupac's Wikipedia page. And sometimes the dialogue is so terribly on-the-nose that it often becomes phony and forced.

Demetrius Shipp Jr. has an impossibly huge task to take on, and he actually does a pretty commendable job considering the weight of it all. But while he's a solid screen presence and greatly resembles the cultural icon in appearance, he doesn't quite possess the same bravado and soul of Tupac's voice. Does anyone really, though? Still, it's a significant glare that is difficult to look past.

All Eyez On Me always feels like it should be more fascinating and powerful than it is. Maybe someday there will be a good Tupac biopic, but it's not this one.

( 4.5/10 )

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

[Review] Cars 3

Ah, Cars... Pixar's, uh, least-beloved franchise (although merchandising might say otherwise). It doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and I mean that in more ways than one. While the latest installment is better than Cars 2 (that's not saying much), it still doesn't exactly rejuvenate the series.

Cars 3 checks back in with Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson). He's a fading old-timer. Far past his prime. Nearing the end of his career on the racing circuit and getting torched by flashy and hi-tech newcomers like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Things take a jarring turn when McQueen crashes and burns. And well, you know what that means: It's time for a comeback story!! But in the form of a mentorship, training young dreamer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

Despite its sleek animation, endearing voicework, and accessible plot, the film comes off as thoroughly mediocre. All the racing sequences get overly repetitive, and frankly, they just aren't that engaging. This lacks humor, heart, and stakes, and when it faces off against similar racing stories with similar beats--like Ron Howard's live-action (and much better) Rush--it falls far behind.

The narrative comes down to someone (automobile or otherwise) trying to keep up with a world that is moving way faster than them. It's about adapting to change, breaking tradition, taking risks, and not getting stuck in the past. But ironically, the film itself does none of these things. It isn't new. It isn't fresh. And it isn't surprising. In fact, it's about as formulaic as it gets.

So as you can guess, I probably won't be racing to the theaters for Cars 4.

( 5.5/10 )

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

[Review] Raw

Julia Ducournau's Raw is a graphic and grotesque art-horror film that is surprisingly watchable.

This French-Belgian flick follows Justine (Garance Marillier, superb) - a strict vegetarian heading off to veterinary school. Early on, she's bombarded and forced to engage in a sadistic hazing ritual that involves eating rabbit kidneys and getting blood and guts dumped on her head (an image that recalls Carrie). Soon after, she begins craving meat like a rabid carnivore. And not just any meat... RAW meat.

It gets grosser and grosser as it goes. Rashes. Animal parts. Cannibalism. But don't get it twisted, this isn't shallow snuff or shock for the sake of shock. This is well-shot and well-wrought nastiness. And by that I mean it might make you gag while you simultaneously admire the cunning cinematography, the stylized lighting, and the vivid colors. The film exhibits some surrealist flairs, occupying a bizarre and provocative alt-world. Coming-of-age symbolism, themes of sexual awakening, and sisterly bonds and rivalries curdle beneath the sickening surface, putting this film more in the realm of ambiguous arthouse pieces like The Fits or Wetlands, rather than stuff like Green Inferno.

So if you'd like to wet your weird appetite, take a chomp out of Raw. No one will blame you for wanting to puke though, especially if you're eating hotdogs during it. WHY would you do that?

( 8/10 )

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Monday, June 19, 2017

[Review] The Mummy

The Mummy rises up as the first piece in the "new" Dark Universe, Universal's relaunch of classic movie monsters. And well, if this monstrosity is any indication of what lies ahead, there's not much to be excited about, because this wannabe blockbuster is a disasterpiece on multiple levels.

Amidst the film's six different openings, an ancient princess aka The Mummy (played by Sofia Boutella) is awakened, Tom Cruise and his oddly cast buddy Jake Johnson yell at each other in Iraq while dodging bullets and accidentally uncovering a tomb, and Russell Crowe serves as narrator for reasons initially unknown. Anyway, The Mummy is mad and ready to wreak havoc, but in London.

"The past cannot remained buried forever." - A phrase that's uttered twice in this film. But considering what the filmmakers have summoned, the past definitely should've remained buried. This thing can't find a proper tone to save its life. It's a shoddy mash of genres that fails miserably at each one--whether it's horror, fantasy, adventure, comedy, or romance. Along the way, there's head-scratching hallucinations, weird possessions, generic curses, shoehorned conspiracy stuff, and a 5-minute scene of exposition about Tom Cruise's 15-second endeavor with the story's love interest (Annabelle Wallis). I will say - the attempts at humor here are so bad that they do end up being amusing.

The editing is incomprehensible and the action sequences are awfully muddled--not that what's happening is that interesting in the first place, but we should at least be able to clearly see it, right? Some of the film's imagery almost looks unfinished - you know, like those videos of movie footage that leak onto the internet before post-production has taken place. The film's big and bad title character is never that menacing of an obstacle, coming off more as an elaborate Halloween costume with a killer make-up job at best, while rivaling The Enchantress from Suicide Squad for the most futile and ill-conceived villain in recent memory. She spends half the duration chained up and immobile, to the point where you wonder if the creation of this film even began as a Mummy movie. Tom Cruise gives it his all to keep this thing alive, but it's like a captain trying to keep a pile of pierced dead weight from sinking. I don't think this is the worst film of the year, but it's certainly an abominable mess.

Brendan Fraser is rolling in his grave. (I know he's alive, but still.)

( 4/10 )

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

[Review] The Belko Experiment

The company slogan this film flaunts, "Business without boundaries" takes on a whole different meaning in the gruesomely violent 9-5 free-for-all that is The Belko Experiment.

John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, Melonie Diaz, and Michael Rooker play the notable co-workers who clock into Belko Industries. A seemingly normal day at the office turns into absolute chaos when the building's intercom is hijacked by an unknown voice giving them orders to essentially engage in systematic killing, and it's no joke.

It's like The Purge in a skyscraper. A less-stylish cousin of Ben Wheatley's High-Rise. But it lacks the social commentary or send-up that you might expect from an over-the-top corporate debacle. And it's mostly void of any sense of humor or bite. I say "mostly" because there is an operatic sequence where people's heads start exploding and the film's token stoner yells "It's all in my mind!" But mainly, this is a hollow, hypothetical scenario of people being pushed to the edge under pressure, where all morals are tossed out the window (if the windows weren't sealed up). Who will snap first? Who's gonna get sacrificed. Who's gonna take charge? How does one even develop a plan under these circumstances?

The Belko Experiment is entertaining in a sadistic sort of way for a while, but I began to check out about halfway through as the film became loathsomely cruel, tedious, and one-note--one bloody and skull-crushing note. (I also think it was a terrible mistake to kill off Michael Rooker's character so early.) So this film isn't really fun, intense, or substantial enough to be memorable or gain cult appeal. The biggest question I was left with was: Who cares?

( 5/10 )

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