Tuesday, August 22, 2017

[Review] The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature

After the first Nut Job, I can't imagine that anyone was cracking for a sequel. But here we are with The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature, an animated flick that is about as imaginative as its punny title.

We check back in with Surly (voiced by Will Arnett), a protagonist so forgettable that I didn't even remember that his name was Surly (or that he's purple). Anyway, the peaceful existence of Surly and his small mammal friends is threatened when the egg-shaped Mayor of Oakton City (Bobby Moynihan) lays down plans to build a noisy amusement park in their grassy, tree-filled habitat.

It's a wildly familiar plot, and the execution of it is so humorless and so hollowed of originality. It heavily (and shamelessly) borrows a bunch of generic elements from recent hits like The Secret Life of Pets and Zootopia. And it's as if the writers tried to squeeze the word "nut" into the script as many times as possible. So hilarious! As for the animation - it's fine, but nothing to get excited about it.

The film's message of preserving the environment and resisting government greed is an agreeable one, but the The Nut Job 2 is so trite that it just comes off as a soggy, stepped-on shell of entertainment.

( 3.5/10 )

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Monday, August 21, 2017

[Review] Logan Lucky

Director Steven Soderbergh returns with Logan Lucky, a wacky southern-fried heist comedy that's bolstered by a remarkably stellar cast.

Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are the Logan brothers, and they've fallen on hard times in the income department. But with some help from their sister (played by Riley Keough, fantastic) and a prison inmate amusingly named Joe Bang (and amusingly played by Daniel Craig), they form an incredibly elaborate plan to rob a vault during a race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The film runs like a well-oiled machine and it fires on all cylinders. Rebecca Blunt's (whose identity has oddly been called into question) screenplay is full of gloriously deadpan dialogue and hilarious slapstick humor. It's all so intricately schemed as well, and it manages to come together swimmingly. Every plot tube connects. Every little detail pays off. Every setting takes on its own mood. Every character, although not deeply developed, feels lived-in. You can practically smell the grease under Channing Tatum's dirty fingernails. In fact, this is a story that introduces so many quirky individuals that it seems like there could be a whole TV series made out of it. And I would definitely watch.

Logan Lucky is a redneck robbery. A hillbilly heist. An Ocean's 7-Eleven. And it's an absolute hoot.

* 8.5/10 *

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

[Review] 13 Minutes

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the historical thriller 13 Minutes revolves around the real-life events of one man's attempt to blow up Hitler during a Munich speech in 1939.

That man is Georg Elser (Christian Friedel), a modest carpenter and accordion player from a small German village. The non-linear plot portrays the aftermath of Elser's arrest where he's brutally interrogated, the events leading up to the assassination attempt, and the recollection of his earlier life and romance with a woman named Elsa (Katharina Schüttler).

Of course, the most intense moments come during Elser's intricate and secretive plotting of explosives, and the most harrowing moments come as he endures harsh methods of torture by the hands (and tools) of the Nazis. It's difficult to watch these unflinchingly detailed scenes, which involve a lot of straps and vomiting, and I'll end it there. Unfortunately, the film's overlong flashbacks can't help but feel like underwhelming filler, especially as they break up the narrative's tense momentum. And Elser's character is never quite as deeply developed as we would like.

Still, 13 Minutes is a pretty well-crafted and fascinating portrait that makes you ask What if?

( 7.5/10 )

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

[Review] The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration is a low-key indie drama about adolescence and yes - vampirism. Think Let the Right One In meets The Fits.

Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a quiet young teen growing up in the rough New York housing projects. Oh yeah, and he happens to have flesh-biting and blood-sucking urges. Early on, he meets a girl named Sophie (Chloe Levine), and the two form a sort of outsider bond. Along the way, Sophie learns of Milo's obsession with vampire movies, only she doesn't know just how true his obsession is...

Throughout the film, many vampire flicks are directly mentioned, as Milo and Sophie name their favorites on ponder which ones would be the most "realistic". The referencing is reflective of The Transfiguration itself, and it's also a way of wearing influences on its sleeve--almost as if director Michael O'Shea is going "Yeah, we know you see the similarities..." It's fun, though. And intriguing. For the most part, the meaning of the vampire elements here is kept ambiguous, but the narrative has underlying themes of urban decay, unflinching violence, and a bleak sense of desperation. Eric Ruffin anchors the story with a subtle yet impressively convincing central performance.

So while The Transfiguration can't hide from the familiarity of its predecessors, this gritty coming-of-age horror thing is still a juicy blend of genres that I'll welcome in.

( 7/10 )

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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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