Wednesday, March 21, 2018

[Review] The Hurricane Heist

There's been movies about hurricanes. There's been movies about heists. But what about hurricanes AND heists? Welp, that's what The Hurricane Heist goes for, and it fails miserably.

The plot sees a super hurricane heading towards the Gulf Coast, and while most citizens are busy evacuating, a squad of crazy folks have chosen to infiltrate and rob the town's treasury. A meteorologist (played by Toby Kebbell) and a treasury agent (Maggie Grace) decide to stay behind and attempt to protect the vault. And well, the whole thing just gets dumber and dumber as it goes, blowing through like a cold and rainy slap to the face.

This thing is flooded with incoherent truck chases and shootouts in the wind and rain. Like the storm itself, it all just kind of blurs together into a big, loud, wet, metal-mashing mess. The editing is so frantic and the camerawork is so dizzying and the action sequences are so poorly rendered that the movie feels like the cinematic version of a swirly. The dialogue is horrendous too, especially this exchange: "You're gonna ruin someone's tobacco crop." / "There will be a little less cancer in the world." And then there's the guy shouting "Hell of a day!", which comes off like a half-assed ode to Mad Max: Fury Road. All the are actors resoundingly stiff and they deliver their lines with the conviction of a soggy sock. It's as if they're never sure what volume they should be yelling.

All that said, The Hurricane Heist's biggest crime is that it's boring. Time to dry off.

( 4/10 )

Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

[Review] Thoroughbreds

Directed by newcomer Cory Finley, Thoroughbreds is a deliriously off-kilter psychological drama with a pitch-black sense of humor and a tinge of bizarro horror.

Set in suburban Connecticut, the story revolves around two (very) upper-class teens that are essentially forced to hang out together. One is the uptight and academic Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch and Split), and the other is the anti-social Amanda (Olivia Cooke, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl) who claims to not feel any emotions. It's safe to say that they don't really hit it off. But over time, they eventually form a strange bond -- it's less of a friendship, and more of a complementary way of using each other. Anyway, it's not long before the two are plotting an idea to have Lily's high-strung and emotionally abusive stepfather (coldly played by Paul Sparks) murdered!

Considering the potently inhospitable tone, the dark subject matter, and the bemused sense of humor, it wouldn't be off-base to compare Thoroughbreds to last year's divisive Yorgos Lanthimos film The Killing of a Sacred Deer, except this is much more straightforward and economical. Each scene brims with a thick, awkward tension that you could slice through with a butcher knife, and you get the impression that it's all going to build to something really nasty (and it does). The uneasy musical score squeals, clicks, taps, stomps, and pummels with the rhythm of a frantic horse.

This is a film that is as cunning and unhinged as its characters. Taylor-Joy and Cooke both give perfectly callous and memorably deranged performances, casting a twisted spell on the audience as the film progresses. And in his final on-screen role, the late Anton Yelchin gloriously rolls in as a smarmy scuzzball with a minor yet impactful role, reminding us of the great talent that we've lost.

In the end -- despite the film's sharp and stabby nature -- there isn't really a major point to any of it. It's just a well-crafted exercise in luxurious ugliness and shattered characters getting pushed to the edge. The biggest message all might be: Don't practice row-boating in the house.

( 8/10 )

Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach

Thursday, March 8, 2018

[Review] Red Sparrow

Jennifer Lawrence stars in Red Sparrow, an icy but empty espionage thriller that never really takes flight. Let's just say it's definitely no Atomic Blonde.

Dominika (Lawrence) is a prestigious ballet dancer (Red Sparrow or Black Swan?) living in Russia. But after suffering a career-ending injury and getting mixed up in some CIA business, she's recruited to start a brand new life at Sparrow School, where she becomes a secretive operative trained to manipulate minds and seduce targets.

We witness much of the training process (Charlotte Rampling plays the merciless Headmistress), and it's offputtingly cruel and sadistic (and oddly rapey). The class sessions themselves are a complete snoozefest -- it feels like we as an audience are being dragged into a course we didn't sign up for. Yeah, not fun. Once Dominika graduates, or whatever, the film takes an even deeper dive into sloggy territory. The pacing is glacial, the narrative is choppy and convoluted, and the tone is stilted and soulless. This thing just never ratchets up enough tension or intrigue to make us care, which is essential for a film like this. And even if you forgive the sketchy Russian accent, Jennifer Lawrence gives one of the most underwhelming performances in her eclectic catalog, and part of that is because this character is more of a walking mannequin than a human being.

Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Jeremy Irons round out the supporting cast, but they don't really have much to do either. And I'm not suggesting that every spy thriller needs big action sequences, but this one really needed some big action sequences. Of course, the events escalate during the last 20 minutes or so, but by that time -- it's too late.

( 5/10 )

Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

[Review] Mute

Duncan Jones made waves with the indie sci-fi hit Moon and then followed it with the serviceable, time-altering thriller Source Code. I won't talk about 2016's Warcraft movie, but anyway, the director has returned with a passion project called Mute, which recently premiered on Netflix. It's an ambitious but unfortunately sloggy sci-fi noir that never amounts to anything worth investing in.

Set in a futuristic world (let's just say there are a lot of sex robots, and everything is delivered by drone), we meet Leo (Alexander Skarsgard), a reserved fellow of habit who's been left mute from a boating accident as a child. When his blue-haired girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) suddenly goes missing, he's tasked with putting together the puzzle pieces in order to track her down.

Prepare for a whole lot of nothing. Seriously, over 30 minutes go by without anything of significance happening. And it moves frustratingly slow. It's as if the film were developing at the pace of a soon-to-be-canceled series pilot instead of a succinct two-hour composition. And once any semblance of a narrative does kick in, it's insanely dull and derivative, like a Blade Runner-lite. Like, super lite. The entire thing has a streak of muddled ugliness, and it's riddled with odd choices.

As for the good, the film is decently shot, glowing with extravagant detail, techno style visuals, and that always appealing use of neon lighting. But the cyberpunk backdrop never really informs the story as much as it should -- it's just kind of there. The highlights of it all are the film's scuzzy suspects, played by Paul Rudd in full sleaze mode and Justin Theroux ("The Leftovers"). They're the only performers that add any sense of energy or personality to this thing. But in an awkward move, they rarely actually connect to the plot's main thread, and the film comes off like two separate stories running alongside each other. And that's really indicative of the Mute itself -- nothing ever really gels together. In fact, Paul Rudd's mustache is the most amusing thing about the whole movie.

Along the way, I kept asking myself what the point of any of it was. And by the end, well, there really isn't one.

( 3.5/10 )

Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach

Friday, March 2, 2018

[Review] Game Night

Coming from the directing duo of John Francis Daley and and Jonathan Goldstein, Game Night is an insanely rowdy romp that rolls in as one of the funniest and most expectation-defying films of the early year.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a married couple that have one huge trait in common: They're obsessive game enthusiasts -- from bar trivia to charades to Monopoly -- so much so that they hold a weekly game night with their friends. Their routine is thrown out of whack when Bateman's envied older brother (played by Kyle Chandler) comes into town to host his own game night. Always one to upstage his younger brother, he sets up an elaborate Murder Mystery party, but the proceedings are so real that the crew cannot decipher what's part of the game and what isn't. And well, things get beyond CRAZY.

Much of the film's success is owed to Mark Perez's extremely entertaining and consistently hilarious screenplay. Between the story's sheer unpredictability and piles of twists, as well as the onslaught of gut-busting jokes, Game Night thrives simultaneously as both a grippingly wild thriller and an absolutely uproarious comedy. I was dropping my jaw and belly-laughing in my seat the whole way through. There's a particularly hysterical scene where McAdams attempts to remove a bullet from Bateman's arm, and pretty much everything that can go wrong - does. In addition, the commendably clever dialogue is full of referential humor and quippy exchanges that are stacked like a Jenga tower.

The great supporting cast is fully game too, including Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Kylie Bunbury, and Lamorne Morris. In an unexpected turn, it's Billy Magnussen that is the frequent scene-stealer, as he plays a bonehead doof of a character who delivers some of the film's best lines with astonishing comic timing. But the star of the show truly is Jesse Plemons, who taps in as Bateman and McAdam's painfully awkward and sensitive neighbor (he doesn't like being left out of game night). The guy seriously deserves Oscar consideration for this role, and I'm not even kidding.

As all the cards are flipped, the mysteries are revealed, and blood is spilled, Game Night remains engaging and surprising until the very end. And I mean the very end. Over.

( 8/10 )

Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach