Fri, 10 June 2016
Sam shares his, urm, thoughts on the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie...
I think I was a bit too young for Transformers and GI Joe; I just missed that wave of 80s cartoons. What I did watch a hell of a lot of on Saturday mornings growing up was Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the latter leaving a bigger impact (My stance was/is Ghostbusters had the better movies but the Ninja Turtles had the better cartoon and video games). What I'm doing with this longwinded, stream of conscious intro is try to justify to myself why I saw this abomination on celluloid even though I knew, I KNEW, what I was in for before the theater lights even dimmed.
Let's get to good stuff out of the way first: This movie is the closest a live action adaptation gets to the cartoon. Shredder looks more like Shredder and less like a human Swiss Army Knife. Brian Tee imbues the iconic Turtle nemesis (A phrase never thought I'd necessarily write) with more personality and menace than he had in the 2014 film...mostly chewing scenery and scowling but still an improvement. Bebop and Rocksteady show up! I've been waiting for those two for a full-on cinematic appearance since 1991 (Getting Tokka and Rahzar instead) so seeing those two along with Krang and Baxter Stockman was very welcome as was the Technodrome and Turtle...well, I guess, not van but a converted garbage truck this time. And despite being 10 minutes longer than its predecessor, it feels shorter and moves quicker which is especially merciful when dealing with a movie of this, uh, caliber.
Look, I get that there isn't necessarily a lot of depth in Ninja Turtles on a conceptual level, I totally get it. Even though the franchise was created as a parody of gritty street-level comics of the 80s, it is still, at the end of the day, the story of four human-sized anthropomorphic turtles that live in the sewers of New York City emerging to fight crime in between pizza parties and sick skateboarding sessions; not exactly Tolstoy, is it? But this movie, man...[Mild spoilers from here on out]
The Turtles themselves aren't really at fault in their own movie though they still look more like a Salvador Dali acid trip than the shellheads of old. Their more annoying traits are toned down and Michelangelo is thankfully nowhere near the creeper he was towards Megan Fox this time around. And speaking of Megan Fox, in her opening scene, she disguises herself as a sexy schoolgirl when she's already in disguise as it is JUST BECAUSE. I get that subtlety was never part of the game plan but it sets the tone for the movie going forward and not in a good way at all.
Stephen Amell doesn't necessarily do a bad job as hockey mask-wearing badass Casey Jones but his part is written less as Arrow's Oliver Queen and more as Steve from Blue's Clues with a bad attitude and seemingly infinite supply of hockey pucks. Tyler Perry's Baxter Stockman is understandably goofy (Again, kid's movie) and conveniently has a device that can generate mutagen from an extra-dimensional source in about ten seconds. Not a ten second montage; it's just primed and ready to go for something that he literally didn't know existed ten seconds prior in real-time.
The plot has Shredder broken out of prison and team-up with Krang to ostensibly take over the world by assembling three scatter MacGuffins to open some extra-dimensional, oh fuck it all, it's the Turtles trying to save the day from Shredder and Krang with Bebop and Rocksteady thrown in as recurring muscle; nothing more, nothing less. And Bebop and Rocksteady have this recurring "gag" where they'll random turn to each other literally at least 3 times a scene and go "MY MAN!" even if they've just had their everliving shit wrecked. That is the height of comedy in this. I've never wanted to see an endangered species, mutated or otherwise, obliterated until this movie so thank you for having me hit that personal low, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, for that.
Also, the 2014 movie goes out of its way to show that the Turtles are completely bulletproof so it's weird to see them surrender at gunpoint multiple times. MOVING ON!
I think one of the first big movie reviews I wrote on here was for the 2014 Ninja Turtles which I remarked was a movie not made based on desire or imagination but simply because they could. This continues that by being a sequel made because they could. You could cynically and not inaccurately describe that's how all big-budget movies are made these days but I like to think there's a little something extra under the hood, certainly to get me to care about them.
A bit less grating and more brisk than its predecessor, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows still fucking sucks. The action is a little more coherent, the characters generally less annoying, and there's more elements from the classic cartoon than ever but when you fail to stick the landing (Or the jump or the fancy shit you do in between the jump and the landing), what's the point? Yo, X-Men: Apocalypse! You're not the worst movie I've seen so far this year anymore!
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 9:47am EST
Mon, 6 June 2016
It's been out for a week and a half so Sam shares his spoiler-heavy thoughts on X-Men: Apocalypse:
Way back, I remember a kid in my neighborhood inviting me over one afternoon after he taped the series premiere of a brand new cartoon the previous evening. The cartoon was X-Men: The Animated Series and the episode was Night of the Sentinels and it began my lifelong enjoyment of Marvel Comics' superteam of misfits defending a world that hates and fears them. The major antagonist of the series was Apocalypse, the world's first documented mutant who had since evolved to possess god-like powers. He quickly became my favorite X-Men villain; Magneto is their most iconic frenemy, sure, but whenever Apocalypse reared his head, it was always all hands on deck. When I heard the latest X-Men would center on Apocalypse, I got very excited; Bryan Singer had returned to the franchise he brought the big screen back in 2000 with the best entry yet in X-Men: Days of Future Past and I was eager to see what he would do.
So imagine my surprise, last night, when I found myself wishing I could fall asleep instead of watching what was unfolding before my eyes. How do you make an X-Men movie focused on Apocalypse boring? How is Apocalypse himself the worst thing in the movie? How did the guy that directed the terrific X-Men, X2: X-Men United, and X-Men: Days of Future Past helm the worst installment in the series by a country mile? Fucked if I know but let me go over it and see if I can find out by the time I'm done thinking out loud (Or, in this context, electronically).
Largely set in 1983, ten years after the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, everyone is trying to move on in the ensuing decade. Professor X and Beast are more interested in running a school for mutants rather than training a team to defend the world. Magneto has returned to his native Poland to live a quiet life as a factory worker while raising a family. Mystique has become the face of mutant heroism after saving the President at the conclusion of Days of Future Past; a title she rejects as she adopts a human appearance and lives underground in Western Europe. But when CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Bryne returning from X-Men: First Class) accidentally awakens the millennia-dormant Apocalypse, she sets into motion the events that will lead this wayward figures to cross paths again.
Apocalypse immediately sets out to recruit four lieutenants as his Four Horseman with a young Storm, Olivia Munn's Psylocke, and Ben Hardy's Archangel being the first three brought into the fold after each receiving a power upgrade (Archangel's recruitment being set to Metallica's Four Horsemen because fuck subtlety). Meanwhile, Professor X welcomes teenaged Cyclops and Nightcrawler to his school while keeping a watchful eye on the young Jean Grey, well aware of the destructive capabilities of the Phoenix Force inside her.
After Magneto draws attention to himself by using his powers, the authorities kill his family after it's revealed his daughter can...control birds? It's dumber than it sounds and it sounded pretty dumb to begin with. A heartbroken Magneto is then recruited by Apocalypse as one of the biggest pieces of his nonsensical master plan completing his requisite quartet. I've always been a big fan of Michael Fassbender and thought he deserved the Academy Award for Best Actor last year over DiCaprio for his performance in the criminally overlooked Steve Jobs and he does a decent enough job from the outset but, after he loses his family, he turns in one of the most ham-fisted performances I've seen so far this year. I get that a narrative that centers on a strong allegory for prejudice can get heavy-handed at times (For fuck's sake, Magneto visits Auschwitz as if he forgot why he became the man he is) but it gets a bit over-the-top. And after joining the Four Horsemen, he and the others just stand and sulk like they're posing for a bad album cover.
Oscar Isaac is an actor I've watched make a monumental ascension recently. Sure, he was in the latest Star Wars and does a fantastic job with that smaller role but it was his star-making performances in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina, and Show Me a Hero that put him on my radar. When I heard he was cast as Apocalypse, I was very happy but I'm not happy anymore. It doesn't help that he goes through the movie looking like a monochromatic sad clown and chews scenery like an all you can eat buffet.
I think the faults of X-Men: Apocalypse are best exemplified by the film's centerpiece action sequence featuring Quicksilver. The sequence is bigger and more ambitious than the memorable set piece in Days of Future Past that saw the supersonic mutant save the day set to Jim Croce's Time in a Bottle...but bigger definitely doesn't always mean better and somehow the special effects got worse over the past two years? The scene wasn't an exercise in imagination so much as a direct attempt to top something that's been done before...but setting it to the pulsating menace of Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics is pretty cool.
After 6 X-Men films (8 if you count the Wolverine spin-offs), everything feels played out; the love just isn't there anymore. All of the pieces we've come to know and love are on the board. James McAvoy still does an underrated job as a younger Professor X and there's a reason why Jennifer Lawrence has an Academy Award and three additional nominations under her belt already (Though Mystique has a very contrived role to play here). But there's just no heart in it and it's a soulless, dragging flick. Maybe skip this one and just watch Captain America: Civil War again because this thing is a trainwreck.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 4:06pm EST
Wed, 25 May 2016
Sam's thoughts on The Nice Guys:
Los Angeles, 1977. The City of Angels feels hazy and distorted with cigarette smoke wafting indoors while the bright, California sun is filtered through a thick layer of smog. Morally, the lines feel blurred too with drugs readily available, porno theaters littering Hollywood Boulevard, and pimps and dealers on each street corner. It's in this pulpy, neo-noir (Retro-noir?) setting that a porn star is killed putting the story into motion.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 1:02pm EST
Fri, 6 May 2016
Consequences. So many comic book heroes and villains have their origins and motivations tied to consequences sometimes from decisions as mundane and innocuous as taking a shortcut home from the movies through a dangerous alley or letting a crook fall into a random vat of chemicals. Tony Stark's career as a leading weapons manufacturer inadvertently leads to his own ordinance turning against him and forcing him to build the first Iron Man armor. Peter Parker letting a criminal go leads directly to the murder of his uncle. But what of the consequences after the donning the mantle of superhero? For every action, there must be an equal or opposite reaction so what's the reaction? That leads us to Captain America: Civil War.
Both this and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice explored the fallout of collateral damage in the midst of fighting for the greater good; Civil War's a cumulative look at The Avengers' alien confrontation in the streets of Manhattan, Captain America: The Winter Soldier's climax over the Potomac, and Avengers: Age of Ultron's Eastern European showdown. An opening incident in Lagos, Nigeria proves to be the final straw with the United Nations who pass a resolution that greatly restricts the Avengers' mobility. This does not sit well at all with our titular hero.
At the center of Civil War are three haunted men. Captain America, literally a former propaganda company man, is haunted by the agendas and machinations of bureaucracy; bureaucracies that tried to nuke NYC in the midst of an alien invasion and allowed the evil of HYDRA to infiltrate and fester within SHIELD, what was supposed to be one of the country's most trusted institutions; he would be damned rather than let agenda-driven bureaucracy run the world again. Iron Man is haunted by guilt, the smug veneer present during Age of Ultron eroded away as the true toll of his creation's murderous rampage weighs heavily on him; learning that with great power there must also come responsibility. Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, is haunted by all those faces he was programmed to kill as HYDRA's ultimate sleeper agent and there's a couple of faces haunting him lately that strike very close to home. These three men are each pursued by their own ghosts and its put them on a collision course for the ages.
What Civil War readily improves over its comic book source material is that both sides are depicted with legitimate motivations and methodologies; in the comics, Tony Stark is laughably antagonistic (For fuck's sake, he builds a Guantanamo Prison for his former friends in the Negative Zone, creates a cybernetic clone of Thor, and recruits Daredevil nemesis Bullseye into the Thunderbolts) while here he's exponentially more relatable. Robert Downey Jr. gives his best performance as the Armored Avenger perhaps ever, certainly since his debut back in 2008. Newcomers Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther and Tom Holland as Spider-Man both compete for stealing the show alongside Ant-Man who fits right into the Marvel Cinematic Universe's ever-expanding cast; to refer to Civil War more as Avengers 2.5 rather than Captain America 3 would not be an entirely inaccurate observation (Steve Rogers is still very much the focal point and driving force of the film). The Russo Brothers directing this three-ring circus have a lot of plates to spin but they do so admirably; Avengers: Infinity War is in good hands.
Captain America: Civil War, despite its exploration on the fallout of heroism, is a joyous cinematic experience and the Avengers flick that most probably wished they got last summer instead of the middling Age of Ultron (Certainly a better superhero brawl than Batman and Superman's recent dust-up). All the performances are spectacular with Robert Downey Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, and Paul Rudd leading the charge. The marquee showdown at an empty airport (The one splashed over all the trailers) is one of the most fun blockbuster action sequences I've ever seen with everyone getting their due. It doesn't have the laser-precision of The Winter Soldier but it's a hell of a lot more fun and doesn't feel like the 2.5 hours it runs for (Yes, there is a mid-credits and post-credits scene). The typeface for the scene transitions are distractingly large but if my biggest complaint about your movie is font size, you're doing just fine. If anyone was worried about the state of Marvel movies last year, let me assure you they are back on top.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 11:43am EST
Thu, 5 May 2016
Several years back, I was talking to someone that remarked that the 80s were the nadir of popular music. I simply smiled and made a mental note to take everything the gentleman said about music with grains of salt. While the paradigm of rock'n'roll that bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones defined in the 70s didn't continue into the following decade (Have you listened to any 80s Stones' albums after Tattoo You or 80s Bowie albums after Let's Dance?), the spirit of rock didn't die, it just diffused.
Heavy metal split into the two distinct camps of hair metal and thrash; Metallica leading the charge for the latter and Bon Jovi leading the charge for the former. Progressive rock either took a harder edge or became more experimentally electronic. Disco and funk gave way to dance electronica and the advent of modern pop that Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson brought to record-breaking heights. Punk rock reached its commercial zenith (Which is antithetical for the spirit of punk but I'm sure The Clash weren't complaining while cashing those checks). Hip-hop broke into the mainstream with the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC. Glam rock gave way to more synth-driven acts like The Cure, Duran Duran, and The Smiths, unafraid to defy societal norms with teased out hair and makeup. The latter New Wave movement serves as the inspiration for the Irish independent film Sing Street which, with this long introduction, I'm trying to say I saw last night.
While America was enjoyed the excess of 1985, Dublin was deep in its own economic crisis; waves of Irish emigrating from a stagnating country. Those that remained got desperate and frustrated; frustration manifesting in self-abuse and abuse of others. And when desperation mixes with dreams, it can go one of two ways: the dreams die out or they burn brighter than they ever did before; a beacon of hope in a world of shit.
But Sing Street isn't Angela's Ashes; despite its gritty setting, its a celebration of music-fueled reckless abandon and a love letter to bands like The Jam and the previously mentioned Duran Duran and The Cure (All of whom figure prominently in the film's soundtrack). Music is the ultimate form of expression and with the flick's main character, Conor, facing bullying, repressive Dickens-level schoolmasters, and his parents' loud, acrimonious march to separation (It was still illegal to divorce in Ireland in 1985), he uses popular music to drown out all that harmful white noise and his own synth and bass-driven tunes flow like water from a paper cup.
Like any good rock band, Conor's inspiration is kickstarted by a crush on a local girl that carries herself older than she is, disguising troubles of her own with heavy makeup and a self-confident swagger but while there is a love story at the film's core it's just as much a coming of age tale harkening back to those high school days where you'd emulate the fashion and sensibility of your musical icons.
A feel-good tale of rising above the turmoil at home and finding your place, Sing Street is a fantastic Irish film boasting a soundtrack split between some of the best songs of the 80s with a rocking original set performed by the movie's cast. A gem of film for anyone that picked up an instrument to escape the bullshit around them growing up, to find their way, or just to get that pretty girl to notice them for a moment.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 1:11pm EST
Wed, 4 May 2016
I think it's safe to say that Disney is enjoying a fairly successful 2016 so far. Disneyland turns 60 this year. Captain America: Civil War opens this week (More on that later, I'm sure) and has already set a presale ticket record. Zootopia just crossed $900 million worldwide over the weekend. And The Jungle Book has ruled the US box office for the third week in a row and topped $700 million worldwide this past weekend. As I finally got around to seeing it, I suppose I contributed to that number (As well as Zootopia and Captain America: Civil War now that I think about it) so let's discuss which is to say let me scrawl like 3-4 more paragraphs about it below with mildish spoilers.
The Jungle Book becomes the latest Disney property to make the translation from animated musical to a live-action blockbuster (Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in 2010 really kicking off the trend) though to call it completely live-action is a bit of a misnomer. Obviously all the wildlife in the film are computer-generated to great, photo-realistic effect but the environments are too; Mowgli himself being one of the only real-world elements of the film. Director Jon Favreau wisely recognized that shooting the flick on location or to physically reconstruct the jungle in a studio were fool's errands so he built the environments largely from photo-references taken in India.
In that sense, The Jungle Book succeeds mostly as a technical marvel (Yes, I saw the film in 3D and it was phenomenal) with Mowgli seamlessly blending in with the flick's lush environments and varied animal cast. If you hadn't known the environments and some of the animals were entirely visual effects, you wouldn't be able to guess.
Storywise, most of the familiar faces and beats are here from the 1967 original: Newcomer Neel Sethi competently carries the film on his shoulders as Mowgli, Ben Kingsley voices the wise panther Bagheera, Bill Murray voices the relatively carefree Baloo, and Idris Elba voicing the menacing Shere Khan (Between this and Zootopia, it seems adding Elba to anything makes it better...let's see if that rule stands after Star Trek Beyond). The mesmerizing Kaa is gender-swapped into Scarlett Johansson who, along with Lupita Nyong'o as Mowgli's surrogate mother figure Raksha, break up what was the 1967 boys' club of the jungle. More head-scratchingly is Christopher Walken as King Louie reimagined here as King Kong-sized and given half of the film's musical numbers. That's right, just like the 1967 original, a couple impromptu songs crop up. They function as nice nods to the animated movie but happen so infrequently and late in the game that they feel particularly out of place and obtrusive.
The Jungle Book is the best live-action remake of a classic Disney property (Cinderella probably being the worst) to date. While, fortunately, not a shot-for-shot remake of the animated movie, it really captures the spirit of it with the same wonder and free-wheeling energy. And, though I hadn't watched the original Jungle Book recently, watching this felt like revisiting old friends from days gone by. Disney, if you bring up the standard of your live-action remakes to this, I want live-action remakes of EVERYTHING.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 3:15pm EST
Mon, 2 May 2016
Sam's thoughts on Zootopia:
At first glance, Zootopia doesn't look or feel like a traditional Disney film; it's closer in style and presentation to a very well-made Dreamworks Animated flick (Like if the Madagascar movies were actually good). It also felt like the film relatively came out nowhere with the first marketing I remember for it attached to The Force Awakens, less than two months before its actual release and a February release is always a weird thing. What it ended up being is a pleasantly surprising animated movie that continues the winning streak Disney Animation has enjoyed since 2010's Tangled.
Cleverly set up by a children's play in the film's prologue, Zootopia is the titular metropolis where animals that have evolved to fully communicate amongst themselves and dress and have jobs like well, us, all reside within boroughs representing the myriad of ecosystems they come from (Tundras, rainforests, etc.). Carnivores and herbivores have evolved beyond their predator-prey roots and co-exist peacefully but lingering prejudices and stereotypes about the various species subsist with the tension between predators and their former prey being the most evident.
New to the city is Judy Hopps, the first rabbit to become a police officer at Zootopia and must deal with the bureaucracy, her peers, and parents underestimating her ability to stand toe-to-toe with much larger animals on the force led by Idris Elba's Chief Bogo. When tasked with her first major case, Hopps enlists the help of a streetwise, hustling fox named Nick Wilde (And voiced to perfection by Jason Bateman) for help in a city she's still unfamiliar with.
There are several things that put Zootopia a cut above other animated films (Again, usually Dreamworks...they're making yet another Ice Age movie?) and the most evident is the film's cast. Whoever decided Ginnifer Goodwin should voice a rabbit, Jason Bateman should voice a fox, Idris Elba should voice a water buffalo, and JK Simmons should voice a lion is a casting genius. The animators build on these pairings by making the characters subtly resemble the facial expressions of the actors voicing them.
And speaking of animation, this stands among the ranks of Disney Animated Studios and Pixar's best (Powered and rendered by the same engine that Disney previously used on Big Hero Six). Water, lighting, and fur (Which for a movie like this is especially key) effects are top notch.
The last major component of Zootopia's top-quality is that, taking a cue from Pixar, the humor isn't just aimed at kids but the whole family (I found it hilarious, last summer, that Inside Out had a Chinatown reference). The requisite gags hit on all levels and there's references to The Godfather and Breaking Bad that would fly over the average kid's head.
With strong messages about the importance of following one's dreams and the dangers of prejudice, Zootopia delivers across the board as another standout from Disney. The offbeat tone and seemingly simple premise (The premise of animals living in a human-like world is not a new one but it's interesting to see it explored so deeply here) may catch viewers off guard initially but they'll settle soon. Definitely worth a look!
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 11:46am EST
Thu, 28 April 2016
Another text-based movie review by Sam:
While Richard Linklater broke into the mainstream with Dazed and Confused in 1993, he's been known for making much more serious and dramatic films as his career progressed, Boyhood and the Before Sunrise trilogy being the prime examples. Sure, he directed School of Rock back in 2003 and Bernie in 2011 but he also directed the Bad News Bears remake in 2005 which was maybe not the best thing in the whole world...
As advertised, his latest flick, Everybody Wants Some!! (The dopey title being a reference to Van Halen), is in many ways a spiritual sequel to both Dazed and Confused as the 1993 stoner-comedy took place in a high school in the suburbs of Austin during 1976 while this flick takes place at an unnamed Texas college in the final days of summer in 1980. There are also cues from Boyhood which ended with its main character arriving at college and meeting a girl (albeit in present day) which is approximately how Everybody Wants Some!! begins.
Blake Jenner plays Jake, an incoming freshmen moving into college on a baseball scholarship set in that golden, carefree weekend before classes actually begin. Jake moves into the baseball houses and finds himself in the midst of a pack of fun-loving alpha males that love competing amongst themselves, baseball, booze, and girls. And, as all the college students begin moving back in, every night features a different party with a different theme all set to Linklater's killer period-appropriate classic rock soundtrack.
College, in many ways, offers a fresh start after the years of calcification that the personality goes through through middle school and high school. It's usually a new environment and largely new cast of characters, the familiar trappings stripped away to allow for reinvention. We don't really know Jake and boys before college but we do see the common threads that bind them together immediately in college and we see them try on different variations of their college personas without altering their core (They're always looking to get drunk and fuck, guys) and always with that self-assured swagger.
Just like the weekend its characters are having, Everybody Wants Some!! is a hell of a lot of fun and very funny. Sure, there are the occasional moments of introspection that everyone has between (or during) a bender but Linklater doesn't dwell on them too much; he's more interested in having his characters and, by extension, the audience just have a great time and he totally succeeds on that measure. A rollicking look back at those days when every weekend of college felt like its own adventure without being weighted down by the drama that would occasionally show up. My favorite film of the year so far.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 12:41pm EST
Wed, 27 April 2016
Another text-based review from Sam!
There's something I find really cool and genuine about minimalist, relatively low budget sci fi films (Looper, Ex Machina, 10 Cloverfield Lane). They kind of capture that DYI aesthetic and science fiction rooted in emotion readily present in Bradbury books and sci fi flicks from the 70s and 80s (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Starman, ET: The Extraterrestrial) that just aren't around all that much anymore and I connect with so much more than the bigger budget fare (Oblivion, Tomorrowland). Midnight Special definitely falls in the former group.
Midnight Special has wayward old friends Roy and Lucas (Played by Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton, respectively) teaming up to covertly escort Roy's son, Alton, to an unspecified location in the American South. Roy's young son is capable of some particularly unique feats and he has a mysterious date with destiny that Roy knows his sickly son needs to make.
The furtive nature of their journey is one of necessity: Alton is being hunted by the federal government (Led by Adam Driver as bookish NSA agent, Paul) who view Alton as a weapon, a Waco-themed cult who view him as their savior, and local authorities who think Roy just up and kidnapped his kid from his adoptive couple. Roy and Lucas quietly brandish guns as every pair of headlights could be a different hunter. And those Texan roads sure seem to stretch on forever after dark.
At its core, Midnight Special is at once a story about ordinary people forced to deal with scenarios beyond their natural comprehension and a metaphor for parenthood; Roy has to protect his son from the outside world and then ultimately let him go for whatever fate has in store for him out of his control.
The entire cast brings their A-game and the film is expertly shot; the constraints on the film due to budget are never really felt, not even in the special effects shots. Midnight Special is a performance-driven chase film with sci fi influences running deep. Beautifully paced, shot, and performed, the film doesn't answer all the questions it asks but (I suppose like parenthood) that was never really the goal. A great low budget indie sci fi film (That was a lot of adjectives) and worth checking out if like that sort of sub-genre.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 11:25am EST
Thu, 14 April 2016
This is the first in what will hopefully become a series of text-based movie reviews. First up, Hardcore Henry:
Look, if you're coming to this Hardcore Henry review expecting a full-on serious meditation on film with measured critiques on its story and the thespian ability of its cast, I don't know what to tell you. If you've accepted that both of those components don't figure too prominently in this flick, let's continue.
As the promotional materials have suggested, Hardcore Henry takes place entirely from the first-person perspective of its title character filmed entirely using GoPro cameras as a tip of the hat to first-person shooter fans (Like the climax of Doom but good!). The film is a long chase of sorts with Henry escaping from the skybound lab he awakens to the streets of Moscow and the surrounding countryside. As such, when the action is firing on all cylinders, so is the film but when it isn't, it's usually an absolute drag as the movie sets up its next action set piece.
But where Hardcore Henry really excels is when it channels Mirror's Edge more than Call of Duty. The first-person shooter sequences are fine with a madcap gunfight in an abandoned building that looks like a used Expendables set being the particular standout but the parkour and free-running sequences are the set pieces that take the most advantage of the first-person perspective precisely because, as a remarkably low-budget feature, there's someone actually performing these stunts without the safety provisos of a big studio picture.
Obviously some edits and sequences are not exactly what they appear to be but some of the more notable ones (Landing on a motorcycle in the midst of a car chase, rappelling down the face of a building, engaging an enemy with a flamethrower) definitely are. As a sort of host to the proceedings is District 9's Sharlto Copley (Who also co-produced) ushering the protagonist through the events in a whole myriad of unhinged personas. If Spy Kids 3D had the Brotherhood of Evil Stallones, Hardcore Henry features the Legion of Sharlto Copleys each distinctly different from the last. I knocked the film in my opening paragraph for not having a whole hell of a lot of thespian cred (And outside of him, it definitely doesn't) but Copley is an absolute joy in the film and clearly having a blast as he elevates the material whenever he's on screen.
Less effective is the film's antagonist who basically fulfills the textbook definition of Eurotrash with long, bleached blonde hair, a thick accent, bad turtleneck, and an omnipresent sneer as he chews the scenery like an all you can eat buffet. Also, he has Force powers because why the hell not.
As a mainly Russian production, it features a lot of the tropes common in post-Soviet bloc cinema with graphic, unflinching violence, darkly lit cinematography, an electronic pulsating score, nihilistic undertones (And overtones, really), and a pitch black sense of humor. This is readily apparent from the stylized opening titles.
Hardcore Henry is an intense, brutal little flick (Though not without its own twisted sense of humor) that provides a very unique perspective (Pun somewhat intended) on the action genre. The story is perfunctory and whenever it focuses more on that instead of the action, it loses steam faster than a hot air balloon. Sharlto Copley injects some much-needed life into the flick with a wink and a raised middle finger (Sometimes literally). I don't know if this film will be heavily remembered for years to come but it does feel like an instant cult classic and offers a cool twist on the action genre, just don't expect too much outside of that core gimmick.
Category:First Impressions -- posted at: 1:04pm EST