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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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

[Review] My Cousin Rachel


Based on Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name, My Cousin Rachel is a handsome period drama and mystery-romance of a darker tone.

Set in Victorian-era England, we meet Philip (Sam Claflin) as he learns about the death of his former guardian Ambrose, and there are indications that Ambrose's wife Rachel (Rachel Weisz, ah - name solidarity) may be responsible for it. Seeking vengeance, Philip invites Rachel to his home in an attempt to unveil the mystery. But welp... he falls in love with her. Whoops!

The narrative has some glacial pacing, making the film more of a moodpiece than a thriller. A gothic, but dull slow-burn that might induce a nap. The central conflict is there, but it's never quite as intense or engaging as you want it to be. What the film does have going for it is its lush production design - the dusted, candle-lit interior of the mansion... the jet-black wardrobe of Rachel's enigmatic aura... Mike Eley's cinematography is gorgeous too, displaying some ravishing views of the grassy countrysides and rocky coastlines. Sam Claflin is very solid in the lead role - he thrives well in this type of stuff. Rachel Weisz also gives a great performance as the complicated titular character, constantly walking the line between guilty and innocent.

It's just unfortunate that the story is no match for its costume.

( 6.5/10 )


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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

[Review] I, Daniel Blake


Acclaimed British director Ken Loach's latest film I, Daniel Blake is a profound character portrait that puts humanity first amidst harsh economic times.

Meet the titular character Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a cranky yet sympathetic man who's just doing his best in dealing with the crap that life has thrown at him: His wife has recently passed away, he has a heart-attack at work, he loses his job, and because of a mix-up is denied unemployment. And to top it off, he sometimes has to put up with the literal crap that his neighbor's dog leaves in the yard. We follow Daniel as he goes through the frustrating appeal process for his benefits.

I know it doesn't sound like the most exciting plot for a movie (far from it actually), but thanks to the rich details, the tremendous central performance from Dave Johns, and the genuinely compassionate script, I, Daniel Blake is a commendable effort on many fronts. It's sad. It's comical. It's heartfelt. It's tragic. It's real--just like the story's well-wrought, resilient gruff of a main character. He's a working class underdog. A relatable every-person battling against a system that has pushed him aside. A big-hearted helper, especially as he becomes a supportive grandpa-like figure to a young single mother named Katie (played greatly by Hayley Squires) and her two children.

Perhaps the closing of his Daniel Blake's appeal letter says it best:

"My name is Daniel Blake. I am a man, not a dog. As such, I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect. I, Daniel Blake am a citizen. Nothing more, and nothing less."

That's Daniel Blake.

( 8/10 )


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Monday, June 12, 2017

[Review] It Comes at Night


Put your gas masks on and get your flashlights ready, because It Comes at Night.

Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) live with their awkward teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in a rustic home deep in the middle of a forest. On the outside, an insidious virus is infecting the world. When the household decides to take in another struggling family (played by Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough), they form their own mini-community in a fight for survival.

It sucks you in from the beginning, while raising multiple questions: What is the virus? Where is it coming from? Who is left? Or more pertinent - What the hell is going on? The slow-moving camerawork provides some unnerving POV shots of nearly pitch-black hallways and woods, and the thumping percussion of the music summons the dread. The film does see a lull during the midsection, but it eventually picks back up when hostile conflict arises between the two families. Extreme paranoia also creeps in and builds to some nasty nightmare sequences that will make you jump out of your seat.

Along the way, the story tiptoes into a few different thematic ideas but never really develops them any further. And the film is met with an abrupt and unsettling ending--the type of ending that causes audible gasps and audiences turning and saying "That's it?" Personally, I'm a little more forgiving when it comes to this story's bleak (and slightly rushed) conclusion, but I do wish the film had been longer. Still, I found the high points of It Comes at Night to be quite gripping and the overall atmosphere to be very potent. And while we never really find out exactly what It is, It is pretty scary either way.

( 8/10 )



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Saturday, June 10, 2017

[Review] A Cure for Wellness


This film is wet. Very wet.

Gore Verbinski is the director of A Cure for Wellness, an off-kilter institution thriller and psychological horror that is flooded with style.

Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, a fast-rising financial executive who's sent on an assignment to retrieve his company's CEO from a remote fortress in the Swiss Alps that specializes in advanced hydrotherapy to treat various ailments...Or at least that's what they want you to think. After catching some strange vibes, Lockhart suddenly finds himself as a patient there and is unable to check out.

Its smothering story definitely intrigues, as Lockhart drowns deeper and deeper into insanity. Conceptually, the film comes off as a dead-serious blend between Shutter Island and Get Out (without the racial themes). But despite its isolated high-concept, the film still has a lot of real-world topics on its mind, bringing up social critiques on the twisted aspect of the American Dream, toxic superiority, warped medical experiments, purification methods and cleanses, and there's even some class commentary. But the narrative never really *ahem* capitalizes on these ideas and only skims the surface. In turn, the film feels bloated with its 140-minute runtime, especially considering the couple of detours that don't quite mesh. I didn't find it to be slow-moving though, just overstuffed.

What the film really has going for it is its relentlessly peculiar (and creepy) atmosphere, from the eerie hum of the music to the ominous mystique of the settings--the pools, the preservation tanks, the steam baths, the sensory deprivation chambers. It's all significantly well-shot, capturing the intricate production design and the consistently provocative imagery with pristine framing. The film spouts some striking visual motifs, from vivid reflections--to human anatomy--to freakin' eels.

So even considering the missteps, I found A Cure for Wellness to be an engrossing experience, mainly because of its overall commitment to weirdness and its steam-goth aesthetics. Now I need a towel.

( 7/10 )


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Thursday, June 8, 2017

[Review] The Lovers


Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star in The Lovers, a comedy-drama (lighter on comedy) of diverging marriages and wandering infidelity.

Michael (Letts) and Mary (Winger) are one unhappy couple together, and they're each having an affair. If the film were shown in split-screen, their promiscuous lifestyles would practically mirror each other. But once they re-spark their relationship, complications arise and feelings are twisted.

The Lovers observably dives into the banality of a long-term, dissipating union--where the only proclamations left are "We're out of toothpaste" and where the "How was work?" question is met with an apathetic shrug. While the film is downbeat in tone and plainly shot (and kinda bland overall), it's contrasted with a perkier old-fashioned musical score that injects a bit of levity, as if the film is paying homage to (much better) romantic mix-ups of the past. The whole cast here is solid, but Tracy Letts is a standout. He's been on an impressive role lately with great turns in Imperium and Indignation.

Unfortunately, the film itself gets repetitive and banal, and the longer it goes on the more it begins to feel one-note, as if not much is actually happening. Once the irony of Michael and Mary's situation is pointed out, there's really nothing else to say, and I personally lost interest in the lives of these lovers.

( 6/10 )


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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

[Review] Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie


The Captain Underpants books hold a dear place in my childhood heart. So when I heard that a movie was coming out, I was both excited and cautious. But I'm glad to find out that the filmmakers did a pretty swell job in bringing this iconic character to the big screen, wedgies and all.

Best friends George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are elementary school pranksters and imaginative comic book artists. They're the type of kids who bonded over hearing the words "Uranus" and "gas" in science class. Anyway, their creations come to life when they hypnotize their cantankerous principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) and unleash the (sort of) superhero Captain Underpants in all his stupendous, incompetent, whitey-tighty, wasteband-snapping glory. From there, they all face off against a mad scientist named Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll)!

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, for the most part, captures the playful spirit and clever charm of Dav Pilkey's masterful source material. The jokes don't always land, and there is some padding between the laughs, but the script still has plenty of irresistible toilet humor to go around. The film is a symphony of whoopee-cushions. A stink-butt extravaganza. A diary of diarrhea. And like the books, it breaks the fourth wall quite often, even presenting its own in-movie Flip-O-Rama! sequence. The smooth 3D animation is also interjected with nifty clips of 2D doodles and sock puppets.

Captain Underpants is all about friendship, imagination, not taking things too seriously, and farts. Definitely farts. And it shouldn't be any other way. TRA-LA-LAA!

( 7.5/10 )


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Monday, June 5, 2017

[Review] Wonder Woman


Yes, the Wonder Woman movie is finally here. And it's glorious!

Raised as a skilled warrior on the Godly island of Themyscira, Diana aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, fittingly wonderful) experiences a major shift when she saves the life of a fallen pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, always solid). After a Moana-like departure from her home, she teams with Steve to fight at the front lines of World War I, or as Diana puts it - to destroy the God of War, Ares.

First of all, Gal Gadot makes a TERRIFIC Wonder Woman, embodying the charismatic superhero with passion, heart, and well-rounded dimension. Her character is as much of a fierce fighter as she is an avid restorer of peace. Director Patty Jenkins stages the action sequences with a deeply-felt intensity. Every sword swing, every bullet dodge, every shield clash carries an exhilarating impact. The Zack Snyder slow-mo technique is utilized to great effect, giving us a focused glimpse at the physicality of the combat (plus it just looks really cool). In fact, this is a magnificent looking film all-around.

It has a cohesive story and momentous pacing too, which the last couple of DC efforts have severely lacked. The narrative blends history and fantasy in a way reminiscent of--and I know I'm crossing over comic book brands here--Marvel's first Captain America film. It also indulges in a nice hint of humor (another thing the DC films have been lacking), especially when the fish-out-of-water antics ensue as Diana travels to a dark and dirty London - "It's hideous," she says. But the film itself definitely isn't drab. It's engaging and appealing. Worth rooting for. It gives you chills, and it makes you want to pump your fist. What I'm saying is, this movie has a soul. A shining, hopeful soul.

Wonder Woman is a triumph in many ways. A fantastic superhero movie through and though. Even in the crowded comic book genre, Wonder Woman carves out a formidable path. But Wonder Woman doesn't really need the approval from anyone, because she'll do things her own way.

* 9/10 *


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Saturday, June 3, 2017

[Review] Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales


I'll say this about the Pirates of the Caribbean series: I've always appreciated its pure spectacle: the mythical ocean settings, the fantastical swashbuckling twists, the elaborate costuming and makeup, the smarmy villains, the bumbling charisma of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow. While the fifth installment Dead Men Tell No Tales has its faults, it still delivers on the aforementioned elements. And no, it doesn't really add anything new, but it's still a fun and majestic nautical adventure.

Like all the Pirates films, there's A LOT going on and there are a bunch of different characters that all desire something. The gist of the plot here sees the brave young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and an accused witch named Carina (Kaya Scodelario) who's really a brilliant map reader and star decoder, team up with a drunker-than-usual Jack Sparrow in order to search for the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful treasure that breaks all curses. But swiftly on their trail is the ghastly, sludge-dripping Captain Salazar (played solidly by Javier Bardem).

As expected, the film flaunts some rousing setpieces, like when Sparrow's crew attempts to rob a coastal village bank, only to end up dragging the entire building with them--or the frantic encounters with nasty ghost sharks--or the epic parting of the seas during the story's climax. And there's plenty of slapstick shenanigans to go along with it, and admittedly, they drift further into cartoony territory more than ever in this one. Jack Sparrow is more reactive than proactive this time around, basically just going with the flow, or, excuse me--fumbling with the flow. But I suppose that gives the new characters Henry and Carina time to shine, as they're both very likable. Oh, and the full-pirate garbed Paul McCartney cameo is hilarious. The film's biggest hold-up is a midsection expository flashback that just seems unnecessary, doing nothing but slowing the momentum. And you can't help but notice the recycled parts this installment uses, as well as the feeling that the series is over-stretching its sails.

So yes, I'm well aware that Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn't muster up the freshness that the earlier films in this franchise possessed (it's definitely better than the fourth one though), but as I sat back in the breezy theater, escaping the heat and the headlines, I genuinely enjoyed watching this thing. So I won't even call it a guilty pleasure. Like a pirate, I regret nothing.

( 7.5/10 )


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Thursday, June 1, 2017

[Review] Baywatch


Lather up the sunscreen and get your slow-motion jogs ready, because it's Baywatchin' time!

Leading the esteemed crew of lifeguards is the extremely charismatic Mitch (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). If he hasn't saved your life before, he's saved someone that you know. Things get shaken up when he reluctantly teams with a shallow olympic gold medalist (played by Zac Efron), who's basically a parody of Ryan Lochte. Scratch that - he's less of a parody and more of a realistic rendition of him. Also on deck is Alexandria Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, and Jon Bass (whose character should've been axed, if you ask me). Anyway, when drugs begin washing ashore and a criminal syndicate (led by Priyanka Chopra) starts leaving their tracks across the beach, the Baywatch crew must dive into an investigation that isn't listed in their job description.

It isn't on the level of the Jump Street series, but Baywatch is still full of meta-humor, evenly dispersed boner and boob jokes, and an overall self-reflexive ridiculousness, even drawing attention to how nuts the source material is, as well as the movie itself. One of my favorites is the running gag where The Rock refuses to call Efron's character by his actual name and instead opts for Boy Band references. At the onset, it isn't the most inspired gag around, but it pays off with chuckles when The Rock eventually lands on "Hey, High School Musical!" because, you know, Efron was actually in that.

With that said, there is A LOT of awful dialogue to put up with along the way (I won't repeat it). But for every few bad lines, there's always at least one dynamite one, like when The Rock says "I'm bigger... and browner" after someone asks if he's Batman. (Love that.) And speaking of The Rock's character, you'd expect this raunchy summer comedy to draw him as a charged-up playboy surrounded by bikinis, but the film interestingly never goes that route. In fact, his sexuality is kept pretty ambiguous here. What's also surprising is Eric Steelberg's sneaky-good cinematography (he has some solid titles under his belt, including Juno, 500 Days of Summer, and Up in the Air). The golden-rayed coastlines here are rendered with a tinted gloss that makes it seem as if you're watching the film with sunglasses on (fittingly). On the other side of things, the film's special effects barely appear to be a step above Sharknado, which is kind of funny in and of itself. The soundtrack also flaunts some great tunes from Vince Staples and Run The Jewels to The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees.

Baywatch boils down to a fun, if unoriginal crime-stopping mission. Of course it isn't going to win any Oscars, and some stretches of the film flop and sink, but what other movie can you hear the future President of the United States Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson yell "I'm oceanic, motherfucker!" before saving the day.

( 7/10 )

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