Saturday, April 29, 2017

[Review] The Void

Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie's The Void is a buzzing VOD horror flick that has a lot going on. It's part monster movie, part body horror, part cult mystery, part sci-fi. It isn't exactly my preferred style when it comes to the horror genre, but I know there certain are fans out there that'll eat this up.

One night, a slacker police officer (Aaron Poole) happens upon a badly injured man in the woods. After transporting him to an understaffed hospital, he begins to witness gruesome events inside and outside the quarters. As if the crazy monster running through the halls wasn't bad enough, the hospital is surrounded by mysterious hooded figures. Let's just say things get really, really weird.

Sound like an interesting premise? It is. Does the movie deliver on it? Well, sort of. It starts off solid enough, but eventually warps into a mess--like an experimental Frankenstein hodgepodge of genres and ideas that never quite mash. There are some gnarly sequences though, featuring grisly bouts of gore and gross-out imagery. The film frequently uses disorienting flashing lights, and the '80s inspiration is really strong. It's a little bit The Thing. A little bit Hellraiser.

But it can't help but feel haphazard, with its lack of narrative explanations, jarring shifts, and as many plot holes as puncture wounds. And it never really captures the scary, look-over-your-shoulder, flip-on-the-light-switch eeriness of similar low-budget horrors, like, say, the recent (and underrated) Last Shift (which is on Netflix, if you're wondering). Still, I give The Void credit for its swinging ambition and stellar use of both practical and special effects. I'll be keeping an eye on these directors.

( 7/10 )

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

[Review] The Lost City of Z

Based on real events, The Lost City of Z is a sweeping epic of exploration and relentless desire.

Set in the early 1900s, James Gray's film tells the story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a British soldier-turned-explorer who's hellbent on discovering a mythological city in South America (which he calls "Zed"). He teams up with a fellow comrade (played by a funny and heavily bearded Robert Pattinson) and they, along with a native guide, embark on a quest deep into uncharted Amazonia.

It's slow-going at first, but once the crew enters the jungle, this transforms into an intense and engrossing journey, especially as they're faced with the unforgiving elements of the rainforest--dangerous animals, infection, terrain, weather, and the uncertainty of how the native tribes may react to their presence. The picture is steeped in a sepia haze, giving the film a layer of humidity and an old-fashioned grandeur, and it displays some exquisitely stunning photography of lush, scenic nature.

Charlie Hunnam, who I've found to be a bit bland in the past, gives a towering performance here. It's easily his best to date, as he commands every single scene with a steadfast vigor and a major sense of dedication. It's also a richly complex character, too. Percy has peaceful and knowledge-seeking intentions, stressing the importance of respect for the natives, their culture, and their history, despite the backlash he receives from the bigoted British aristocracy. And yet, at times he can come off as harsh and neglectful to his own wife (Sienna Miller) and children (one is played by Tom Holland, who's having a breakout as the latest Spider-Man). Percy's commendable ambition and passion for discovery is the very thing that drives him away from his family. These same themes came up in a great film from a few years ago called Kon-Tiki (check out the director's cut if you haven't).

The Lost City of Z is a beautifully shot, sprawling expedition that hearkens back to classical adventures of the past. It's a film that shouldn't just be hidden away, so go seek this one out.

* 8.5/10 *

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Monday, April 24, 2017

[Review] Free Fire

I'll start by saying I've pretty much loathed Ben Wheatley's last few films--the overstretched alt-horror of Sightseers, the sloggy A Field in England, and the thoroughly unappealing High-Rise. I figured, maybe I'm just not a fan Wheatley's style. Then along comes Free Fire. While it hasn't converted me to Wheatleyism, it's at least a relatively raucous caper of flying bullets and a gritty cesspool of scummy characters.

Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor and a few others play a bunch of low-level criminals of varying backgrounds, egos, and tempers. When the smarmy crew meets up for an arms deal, things go terribly wrong (to put it lightly).

With shades of Guy Richie, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese (who serves as executive producer here), the situation escalates and erupts in a nasty clash of mayhem. Equipped with scattered editing, countless BANGS, and quick, freewheeling dialogue--the script seems to be aiming for a record of most gunshots and F-bombs dropped during a single film. What's interesting about this pulpy flick is that it's essentially one big scene in one location. In other words, it's a really long shootout in an abandoned warehouse. The warehouse holds plenty of places to hide behind--almost acting like a makeshift paintball course, except the guns are deadly, and the floor is littered with asbestos and heroin needles.

Unfortunately, the relentless execution of the concept is also Free Fire's downfall. Once you've witnessed the first 20 minutes or so, you've pretty much seen the rest of the film. And while this thing is billed as a "biting critique of the insanity of gun violence", I think this happens to be a case where the film's press synopsis is giving the film more credit than what it actually conveys. And whether the critique is effective or not, the duration of this thing is still exhaustingly repetitive and it long overstays its welcome. And even though it's greatly acted all-around, we don't really care about the fates of any of these characters, aside from maybe Brie Larson's.

So, Free Fire is exactly like the situation it presents--messy, violent, prolonged, pointless, and sometimes sadistically amusing.

( 6/10 )

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

[Review] After the Storm

If you're familiar with the work of director Hirokazu Koreeda, you know that his filmography consists of quiet familial dramas like Our Little Sister and Like Father, Like Son (to name a couple). His latest, After the Storm, unsurprisingly, is in the very same realm.

Ryota (Hiroshe Abe) is stuck in a rut. Once a successful award-winning author, his career is now dwindling, he has a gambling problem, and he's further alienated himself from his ex-wife (Yoki Maki), his son (Taiyo Yoshizawa) and his elderly mother (Kirin Kiki, who delivers one of the film's best lines: "New friends at my age just means more funerals"). The story essentially swirls around Ryota's attempts to become a bigger part of his son's life and rediscover his own self-worth.

This is a very breezy and relaxed film. You can literally hear the birds chirping. Its narrative - more of a character study, steeped in symbolism of plants blooming and caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis, mirroring the arcs and transformations of the people here. One scene sees Ryota chasing after lottery tickets in the wind, as if he's chasing lost dreams. It is a slow-moving duration, though. A couple of times I found myself drifting in and out of my own daydreams.

Still, with some patience, After the Storm is a rewarding experience, thanks to the subtle yet rich details, the wise dialogue, Abe's stellar central performance, and the heartfelt moments of bonding.

( 7.5/10 )

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

[Review] Smurfs: The Lost Village

As I dazed off into the slightly trippy world of Smurfs, a major sense of déjà vu came over me. Then I realized it - Smurfs: The Lost Village is A LOT like last year's Trolls movie...but with Smurfs.

After ~the only girl in the village~ Smurfette (voiced by Demi Lovato) discovers a mysterious map, she and her friends Brainy (Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), and Hefty (Joe Manganiello) embark on a journey through the Forbidden Forest in order to search for--as the title says--a lost village. But the nasty wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) is on their trail and ready to mess stuff up.

I wasn't really expecting the script to have much humor, but the script really doesn't have much humor. And I wasn't really expecting the story to be very engaging, but the story really isn't very engaging. When you think of "generic animated kids movies" this one fits the bill. While it boasts a few semi-amusing chase sequences (tiny little buggers running from much bigger buggers), the narrative is all over the place, so scattered that it also gets lost in the woods. There also are some well-intended but really basic messages of gender equality and empowerment--the kind of sentiment that makes you go "Well, duh."As for the animation, it's smooth like a balloon. The settings are colorful and whimsical and magical and filled with glowy and spunky creatures and plants.

All in all, this movie is a serviceable, mostly harmless 85 minutes of sweet eye candy. But if anything, it just made me hungry for Sour Patch Kids.

( 5/10 )

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

[Review] The Bye Bye Man

You either die a Babadook, or you live long enough to see yourself become The Bye Bye Man.

This insanely ridiculous, meme-provoking horror film is a modern marvel of unintentionally hilarity, and I loved every minute of it. After opening with a sadistically grim scene that flips to chuckle-worthy at the drop of a dime, the story flash-forwards to the present where we meet a generic group of college students who move into a decrepit old house that might as well read "Yep, I'm haunted" on the welcome mat. The usual stuff occurs--mysterious noises, doors closing on their own, out-of-control bodily functions... And then the group learns of THE BYE BYE MAN - an imaginary, mind-warping entity who apparently makes people want to kill whenever they say or think its name.

Drinking game: If you took a shot every time someone in this movie says "Don't think it, don't say it," you'd be dead. And if you took a shot every time someone actually does utter "THE BYE BYE MAN," you'd also be dead--from laughter. See, whenever someone spews out the name, they make an amusingly odd face and their eyes roll back, as if they've finally broken a spell of constipation. It's kind of how my face looked the entire time while I was watching this movie. And let me just say that I'm so glad that this thing falls into the so-bad-it's-funny category, rather than the so-bad-it's-just-bad category.

To the film's credit though, the composition of some of the early scenes--between the eerie lighting and camerawork--is effective enough to spook you out if you're watching this at home alone in the dark. But then there's all the absolutely absurd and relentlessly cheesy scenes, like the one where a couple is sitting in a car, and little maggots start squirming out of the girlfriend's eye. This scene is even funnier than the trailer cut (the exchange that takes place is something you just have to witness for yourself). And there's the head-scratching hallucinatory sequences that look like Axe Body Spray commercials gone wrong. And the random Chupacabra that comes out of nowhere. I seriously wondered what the point of any of it was. And then there's the consistently atrocious acting and the hysterically questionable dialogue. When The Bye Bye Man begins to get into the characters' heads, I couldn't believe the stuff that was coming out of their mouths (and how it made the final script). Honestly, The Bye Bye Man is actually a pretty funny guy. He really should be called The Ha Ha Man.

What's also astonishing is how this film is so incredibly derivative, so unwilling to carve out its own path in the crowded genre of haunted house and evil ghoul movies. And yet, I went into it thinking it would be completely forgettable and ended up being wrong. Because I cannot stop thinking about it.

( The Bye Bye Man/10 )

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Monday, April 17, 2017

[Review] The Fate of the Furious

Eight. There have been eight of these things. EIGHT. And let's cut to the chase: The Fate of the Furious is 8-mazing.

I'll speed past all the background stuff... Basically, Fate sees Dom's (Vin Diesel) shocking heel turn-- his apparent stint on the dark side...where he's chosen to work for a puppet master/cyber hacker supervillain who goes by Cipher (played by Charlize Theron). The rest of the crew is tasked with foiling Cipher's nuclear plot while figuring out what exactly has gotten into Dom. As expected, things get over-the-top real quick, and in the most entertaining of ways.

I had a big smile on my face throughout this movie--from the crazy opening sequence of Vin Diesel's impromptu street race in Cuba where he ends up throwing the car in reverse after the front end bursts into flames--to The Rock and Jason Statham's elaborately staged, head-bashing prison break--to the tank and submarine chases in the Russian tundra, playing out like Fury Road on ice (I mean, we do have Furiosa here). Then there's Dom's heart-wrenching flip, you know--the moment he turns his back on FAMILY. A rush of darkness takes over as he walks off into a cloud of smoke, leaving The Rock hanging. And shortly after, he smooches his new "boss" right in front of his love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). It hurts. But there are more complicated things at work. And I'll leave it at that.

Speaking of family, amid all the explosions, the booty shot close-ups, the setpieces of self-driving cars running rampant like a herd of buffalo, and the playful banter between Ludacris and Tyrese, this movie is all about family. In fact, It should be called The Fate of the Family. Scratch that - The Family of the Family. See, under the hood, it's not about the engine, it's about the other 'hoods--the themes of fatherhood, motherhood, brotherhood... And on a more somber note, you can't help but feel a massive void--the absence of the franchise's central star, the late Paul Walker. But the film makes it clear that even though he's gone, he's definitely not forgotten.

Unfortunately, this installment doesn't quite reach some of the higher points of Fast 5, 6, and 7, and F. Gary Gray's action can be a bit choppy at times, especially compared to the previous work of Justin Lin and James Wan. But The Fate of the Furious still manages to be another fun addition to this franchise--the franchise that just won't quit. Can't wait 'til Fast and the Furious in space.

( 8/10 )

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

[Review] Prevenge

As you might've guessed from its snappy title, Prevenge is a relentlessly subversive slasher. A pitch-black comedy-horror film. All coming from the mind of Alice Lowe, who also stars as the film's... disturbed main character.

Ruth (Lowe) is recently widowed and currently 7 months pregnant. She suddenly embarks on a killing spree of anyone who crosses her in some way or another, whether its creepy men devaluing her, or other women shunning her. The twist is that Ruth believes her baby is controlling her actions. "She's driving and I'm just the vehicle," she claims. THE REAL BOSS BABY.

It definitely sounds like an insane premise, and it totally is. But it's slyer than it appears, and the tone is actually quite different from its campy B-horror poster and the film's retro credit sequences. It's more like a droll British comedy... A droll British comedy that suddenly launches into jarring, deranged, and bloody violence every once in a while. As crazy as things are, the narrative is rooted in themes of womanhood and motherhood--prenatal and postnatal fears and anxieties taken to extreme (I mean really extreme) and sharply satirical levels, eventually going from absurd to depressing.

Alice Lowe holds it down with her amusing, misery-filled central performance (she filmed and acted in this movie while she was actually pregnant!). But sometimes the film feels like it drags on a bit too long, leaving the impression that it probably would've had more bite as a medium-short film. Still, I appreciated this thing for its sheer madness and substantially bold plot--in all its murderous glory.

( 7/10 )

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Friday, April 14, 2017

[Review] Win It All

Indie/mumblecore director Joe Swanberg teams up with frequent collaborator Jake Johnson for the Netflix Original film Win It All. Luckily, this latest effort sees the director/actor duo at their very best.

Eddie (Johnson) is a hardcore gambling addict. The "I promise I'll pay you back" guy. A real-life, version of Oskar from "Hey Arnold!" One day, he's suddenly tasked with watching over a duffle bag of $50,000 for an acquaintance who's serving a jail sentence (Eddie obviously isn't the best guy for the job). Of course, he blows through the money, and has to work to get it all back before his "buddy" gets out.

There's a major sense of immediacy here. The picture is presented in a grainy filter, giving the film a raw, old-school vibe and almost documentary-like look of realism. Joe Swanberg's familiar themes of childlike adults growing up and getting their lives together are there, but it's much more entertaining this time around. For one, it's a lot funnier, and it also carries a more momentous, mainstream-friendly structured narrative while still maintaining the detailed character study and interpersonal relationship elements that Swanberg has become known for. This is the kind of role that is perfect for Jake Johnson, who also serves as a co-writer. And even though it's easy to get pissed off at Eddie's terrible decisions, he has enough redeeming qualities to make us root for him too.

The film also comes with a really good supporting cast. Funny guy Keegan-Michael Key plays Eddie's dedicated and frustrated sponsor. Mexican TV star Aislinn Derbez plays a sweet single mother who Eddie begins dating. And the always solid Joe Lo Truglio plays Eddie's tough-loving older brother who reluctantly keeps giving him chances.

So yeah. Roll the Netflix dice and take a shot at this one. You can't lose.

( 8/10 )

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

[Review] Your Name

Adapted for the big screen from his own novel, director Makoto Shinkai's Your Name is an intricately layered fantasy piece, as well as a wonderful, dreamy, gleaming-eyed marvel of Japanese animation.

Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) are two high schoolers living completely separate lives--a girl in a small town, a boy in a big city--respectively. That is until the extraordinary "day when the stars fell" and the two strangers switch places, waking up in each other's bodies. Okay I know it sounds a bit like Freaky Friday, but trust me, this film takes a much different path. Anyway, Mitsuha and Taki begin to communicate through notes, and eventually they plan to meet each other. But with mystical forces at work, it's not that easy.

It's a vastly intriguing premise, once we wrap our heads around it--just as the characters themselves do. At times it might make your head spin, but at its heart is a moving story of two desperate, fatefully connected souls trying to find each other at the right place and the right time. The film dazzles with themes of memory, impressions, identity, spirituality, time, cosmic energy, and even subtle undertones of gender and sexuality. It's all so beautifully animated, vibrantly colored, and immensely detailed--from the ethereal montages, to the awe-inspiring landscapes and skies, to the majestically rendered astral views. It's also backed with a glorious musical score--a mix of soaring orchestral arrangements, gentle piano, and even some Japanese power-pop.

So catch this film and behold it. Treasure it. Like a comet passing by.

* 8.5/10 *

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

[Review] Frantz

Lies and truth. Love and loss. Director François Ozon's Frantz is a deeply emotional, classically told period drama about the intricate complications and lingering wounds of war.

1919 Quedlinburg, following the aftermath of WWI, a young German woman named Anna (Paula Beer) grieves the death of her fiancé Frantz (played by Anton Von Lucke in flashbacks), making routine strolls to his gravesite. One day, she happens upon a mysterious weeping Frenchman who we will come to know as Adrien (Pierre Niney), while he's leaving roses on Frantz's grave. Anna reaches out to him, and the two form a bond as she learns about Frantz's final days. Very intriguing...

This film is brilliantly shot--every single frame looks like a pristine work of art. There's also an interesting use of color, as the picture alternates between black & white and full color, with the shifts seeming to depend on subtle turning points or changes in mood. The narrative brings up weighty conflicts and tragically poignant daggers, as well as themes of friendship and forgiveness in the face of the toughest barriers. There's even a slight hint of Hitchcock influence to it all.

It's greatly acted too, with Paula Beer anchoring the turmoil and mixed whirlwinds of emotion--her eyes displaying their own story. Pierre Niney carries a convincing sense of secrecy, regret, haunts, and compassion. He reminded me of a young Adrien Brody, and not just because his name is Adrien here. The film also showcases a beautifully sighing musical score of stirring strings--a violin actually playing a significant part within the story. The melodic notes--so sorrowful, so moving...

( 8/10 )

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

[Review] The Discovery

Netflix's The Discovery is a bleak and confused sci-fi drama of sorts that aims to be brainy and thought-provoking on both scientific and spiritual levels, but muddles in the process.

Robert Redford plays a scientist who claims to have discovered scientific proof of an afterlife--a plane of existence where the consciousness goes after one has died. Subsequently, the population's suicide rates spike as people trade their lives for a permanent trip to the other side. Meanwhile, the scientist's son (Jason Segel), who disagrees with his father's work, meets a mysterious woman (Rooney Mara) who's on the verge of attempting to kill herself. He stops her, and brings her to the secretive mansion where his father is conducting brainwave experiments.

While director Charlie McDowell's previous film The One I Love was an okay Twilight Zone-esque piece at best, The Discovery is Black Mirror-lite. Sure, it's well-shot and it captures a certain sense of drab dystopia, but it's filled with existential conversations and tests and studies that never really translate to anything cinematic beyond a bunch of images of wire hookups. Of course I wasn't expecting The Matrix or anything, but it's still all kind of bland, and it unwinds some weird and confounding twists that are just too loopy and derivative to be compelling. Jason Segel has proven that he can do serious really well (The End of the Tour), but here, he and Rooney Mara can't seem to muster up enough chemistry or conviction with this dour material.

In the end, The Discovery doesn't have much to say about the subjects it's tapping into. It's a big blah.

( 5/10 )

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Monday, April 10, 2017

[Review] The Boss Baby

Oh, The Boss Baby... The trailer alone sparked a series of pertinent questions. Is it a cruel joke? Some kind of bizarre experiment? An insult to animation? A Trumpian allegory? A punched ticket to bad movie hell? I had to see it.

Timmy (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi) is a perfectly content only-child, happily being raised by his loving parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). Then... along comes... THE BOSS BABY (voiced by Alec Baldwin), suit & tie and all, primed to mess up Timmy's adolescent life.

Okay first of all, maniacal babies that talk like adults aren't in style anymore. They're creepy. They're obnoxious. They should be fired. And it's been done so many times before--from long-gone Superbowl commercials to Stewie from "Family Guy" (is that show still going?). Not to mention, the initial premise here is nearly identical to that one "Rugrats" episode where Angelica has a nightmare about getting a new baby brother and the thing turns out to be an absolutely despicable, conniving monster. Now that--that was scary. And memorable. And haunting. And funny.

This--this isn't funny. Not even in the so-bad-it's-good way. And not even because the humor misses or falls flat. What's weird is that the film doesn't really seem to be trying to be funny at all. It's just kind of there. Like an old poopy diaper. The idea of it, for better or worse, might be slightly funny from afar, but once you get up close and actually witness it, it's just a small pocket of waste and stench that isn't necessarily anything out of the ordinary. Unappealing, but also a part of life.

The film is essentially a run-of-the-mill romp about new sibling jealousy taken to extreme and wildly hallucinatory levels. The plot's second half embarks on a turn that manages to be both nonsensical and formulaic. It's so middle-of-road. Not good enough to embrace. Not bad enough to embrace either. So, The Boss Baby isn't quite the abomination everyone anticipated, but it's still pretty crappy.

( 5/10 )

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

[Review] The Blackcoat's Daughter

After an initial festival premiere in 2015 and a title change (from February), The Blackcoat's Daughter has now received a more accessible VOD release. And thank goodness it's here, because this is a chilly, slow-thawing psychological horror film and a startling debut from director Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins, who played Norman Bates in Hitchcock's classic Psycho).

The story revolves around the shy and timid Katherine (Kiernan Shipka) and the rebellious Rose (Lucy Boynton, Sing Street), a pair of roommates stuck at a prestigious Catholic boarding school over Winter Break. Meanwhile, a girl named Joan (Emma Roberts) appears to have just slipped out of a nearby mental institution. A Satanic presence haunts them all, and it's only a matter of time before things hit the fan and spin up some bloody revelations.

It's all about the atmosphere build with this one. The film is exquisitely shot and crisply framed in the heart of a stark and snowy winter. Impending dread rises amidst the creeping camerawork, the shadowy lighting, and the ominous, piercing musical score that becomes a star of its own. It's extremely well-acted too, with Shipka, Boynton, and Roberts all giving moody and smoldering performances that feel pitch-perfect within this setting. And it's best not to give away too much, but the narrative is genuinely eerie, mysterious, confusing, and intriguing all at once.

So even though The Blackcoat's Daughter moves at a deliberate pace, you still won't want to blink.

( 8/10 )

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

[Review] T2 Trainspotting

It's been 20 years since Danny Boyle's stylized junkie portrait Trainspotting hit the scene, eventually solidifying itself as a British indie cult-classic. And while I don't think it screamed for a sequel, this year's T2 Trainspotting is a rare long-after revisit that manages to feel natural. It feels right.

Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, and Ewen Bremner all reprise their roles as Renton, Sickboy, Begbie, and Spud. The plot sees Renton returning to Edinburgh and he learns that things have changed but old wounds, drugs, and crime still linger in each of their frail lives. What ensues is a meandering entanglement between wild pasts, unstable presents, and uncertain futures.

By nature, this one isn't quite as frantic and trippy and bold as its predecessor, but Boyle isn't working in that frame this time around. Instead, he casts a more poignant and character-driven angle. But of course the punchy visual scuzz is still there, as well as the energetic, well-picked soundtrack--from The Clash to Blondie to the "Lust for Life" callbacks. The intensely detailed editing is injected with stirring flashbacks and apt pop culture references. There's a particularly sweet and humorous scene where Spud--the film's most troubled but most sympathetic character--heads to a boxing gym and envisions himself in the ring as De Niro during the iconic Raging Bull opening.

Fittingly, T2 Trainspotting is all about pain, vengeance, recklessness, reflection, aging, and redemption. Thanks to Boyle's careful craft and the cast's dedicated performances, the film nails some surprisingly emotional notes that make the duration worthwhile. The trance-y pacing, scattered plot, and hefty baggage can definitely be exhausting and feel a bit overlong, but if it wasn't that way, it probably wouldn't be a proper Trainspotting movie now, would it?

( 8/10 )

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

[Review] Wilson

Woody Harrelson stars in Wilson, an offbeat comedy that--just like it's titular main character--grows on you as it goes.

Wilson (Harrelson) is an out-of-touch, slightly cynical, and TMI-divulging loner. He's literally the guy who picks the urinal directly next to you in an empty bathroom. Not the most likable fellow, but he kind of feels like someone you might know in real life. Anyway, after he tracks down his ex-wife Pippi (played greatly by Laura Dern), the two attempt to connect with their estranged daughter (Isabella Amara), who was given up for adoption 17 years ago.

Director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) and writer Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) serve up a hotdish of painfully awkward humor. Wilson's interactions provoke that sink-down-in-your seat brand of secondhand embarrassment. Early on, the film seems like it might be a difficult one to put up with. But once the humor settles, the characters develop, and the story opens its heart, this thing begins to charm in its own unique way, especially as Woody gracefully falls into this eccentric role. Wilson is a quintessentially Midwestern odd-com through and through. A feature of habit. A passive-aggressive rollick. In fact, a lot of the movie was filmed just a few minutes away from my home in St. Paul, Minnesota--the settings capturing a familiar blend of old-fashion quirk and understated beauty.

So as much as Wilson gets on our nerves, beneath it all is a sympathetic character. A guy just searching for the life he always wanted but may never have--at least not in the traditional way.

( 8/10 )

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

[Review] CHIPS

CHIPS opens with the tongue-in-cheek disclaimer: "The California Highway Patrol does not endorse this film. At all." And neither do I.

Dax Shepard and Michael Peña are the mismatched, cartoonishly incompetent motorcycle cop duo who stumble into an investigation of internal corruption in this remake based on the 70s-80s TV series of the same name. The whole thing is a raunchy and painfully unfunny chore to endure. The film practically gets down on its knees and begs "Please laugh at me!"

Neither Shepard or Peña display the comic chops or necessary chemistry to make this thing click. The script is stuffed with lazy, outdated, and haphazardly executed humor--like dick and masturbation follies, pervy and shallow dialogue, and jokes about yoga pants that contain the effort of a low-level meme from 2010. This thing is basically the cinematic equivalent of Trump's "locker room talk". The only surprising aspect is that there isn't a Charlie Sheen "Tiger Blood" joke in it somewhere.

As if the humor attempts weren't enough of a crime, the rest consists of dull chase scenes, ridiculously plotted cases, and stakes that are as deflated as all the ballsack references. In fact, there isn't anything in this movie worth giving two CHIPS about. I'm sorry. I'm out of here.

( 3/10 )

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Monday, April 3, 2017

[Review] Power Rangers

Yeah, I grew up watching some Power Rangers. But no, I wasn't really stoked about the reboot. Nostalgia isn't enough to save this humdrum origin story from being a Mighty Morphin' drag.

Let's cut to the chase: A group of classmates in a school full of "weirdos" and "criminals" all meet by a mysterious cliff (under very forced circumstances) and tap into its glowy gems. Much to their surprise, they're blessed with special abilities that will lead them to learn their destiny as the Power Rangers.

Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, and Ludi Lin are the cast that make up the Sharpie pack of superfighters. They're all fine enough, but they don't really have good material to work with. The script is littered with cringeworthy dialogue like "Sup crazy girl" and "Come at me bro", and the line where the stock bully asks "Did you just slap me?" right after someone clearly just slapped him. The Rangers even repeat each others' names an absurd amount of times, as if the filmmakers didn't think we'd be able to distinguish them, and to a certain extent, they were right. The characters are all one-dimensional and forgettable, even as they provide their own expository backstories.

The film itself doesn't have a strong identity either. It's somehow cheesy and overly serious at the same time, with a first half consisting mostly of uninspired teen drama tropes, leaps of humor that fall face-first, and formulaic superhero origin routines that are extremely similar to the 2015's sloggy Fantastic Four reboot or the much better Chronicle. Then all the "we're the chosen ones" and "weight of the world on our shoulders" mumbo jumbo runs through the motions, while shoehorning in some sappy sequences that never feel earned (the washed-out cover of "Stand By Me" doesn't help matters). Amidst all of this, the clumsy narrative still squeezes in the notorious villain Rita Repulsa (played by Elizabeth Banks). She's amusing in her own right, but honestly, the campy persona hasn't aged too well. It's more like a walking, glorified Halloween costume here.

This thing also takes WAY too long to kick into action. By the time the Power Rangers actually become the Power Rangers, the film is approaching its end and I was already dreading the next time I'd have to sit through something like this. And when the action finally does unleash, it's big and bombastic--yet completely weightless--like a Kidz Bop version of Pacific Rim. While tritely dipping into so many well-worn genres, Power Rangers loses itself. And its power.


( 4/10 )

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

[Review] Deidra & Laney Rob a Train

Deidra & Laney Rob a Train is a spunky new comedy that you can catch right on Netflix. It comes as the second feature from Sydney Freeland, and while it could use some fine-tuning, it's something you probably won't regret watching.

Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) is a precocious high school valedictorian, tasked with taking care of her siblings by herself while her mother is in jail. Unable to afford college, let alone make make ends meet (even with her homework business), she devises a highly researched plan with her clumsy sister Laney (Rachel Crow) to yes, as the title suggests--rob a train. But it's not just one. It's many.

Murray and Crow's exuberant and feisty lead performances are definitely the brightest spot of the film. There's also plenty of indie movie-friendly music, a slight hint of Wes Anderson-like quirk (along with some really good framing), and just enough obstacles to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, though, too many Disney Channel-esque vibes sneak in, the humor often falls flat, and a few corny supporting characters threaten to derail the entire story, making it clear that this film is definitely at its best when it focuses on the dynamic between the two sisters.

But despite the rocky flaws, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train leads to a refreshingly optimistic destination that is totally worth embracing.

( 7/10 )

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