Wednesday, January 27, 2016

[Review] The 5th Wave

The trailers for The 5th Wave never looked promising, and the film confirms this. Adapted from a Young Adult novel of the same name, this thing plops into theaters with massive thud.

The film begins in a run-of-the-mill dystopia. Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) runs through a forest wielding an assault rifle and stumbles upon an abandoned convenience store where a semi-suspicious guy is hiding (this anti-climactic part is also in the trailer). Anyhow, the film's world is so under-established that we can't tell whether she's in a post-Walking Dead setting or just an unkempt rural town. Instead of being intriguing, it's just an annoyingly vague opening before the film flashes back to *where it all began*. Where what all began? Should we even care?

Some boring voiceover narration eventually reveals info of aliens and a virus spreading. The film is essentially a mix between Signs and The Happening, except it lacks the suspense of Signs and the unintentional hilarity of The Happening. I'm not one who goes around proclaiming that television is superior to cinema right now, but in this case you'd certainly find more rewarding genre fare on small screens, even if it's CBS' ridiculous yet surprisingly entertaining "Under the Dome". And we all know that Chloe Grace Moretz is a good actress, but the material is so bad here that it has you believing otherwise. Then there's Nick Robinson, who is even flatter in this movie than he was in Jurassic World (he was good in 2013's indie hit The Kings of Summer though).

Everything in The 5th Wave gets worse as it goes along, and the sluggish pacing is nearly unbearable. It's almost as if someone decided to make a sci-fi thriller where nothing happens. This is the 5th wave of bad YA adaptations. It's 5th-tier sci-fi. And it's a major studio release with a 5th-spot box office debut (okay it's 6th, but just go with me). Don't waste your time on this.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

[Review] 45 Years

"It's funny how you forget the things in life that make you happy."

When the 2016 Oscar nominees for Best Lead Actress were announced, there's a good chance that most people weren't aware of Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years. That's because it's easily the most under-the-radar film of the bunch, and it's just now getting a bit of a wider release in the US.

The 45th wedding anniversary of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) is a week away, and major preparation is taking place. However, out of nowhere, Geoff receives a letter from authorities informing him that his ex-girlfriend's frozen dead body was discovered in the Swiss Alps (50 years later!). Geoff is hellbent on digging deeper, while Kate is content with leaving the past in the past.

Metaphors abound, this is shattering to the Kate and Geoff's marriage, as the melted snow uncovers and reveals old haunts. The dynamics of their relationship suddenly shift, even after all these years of being together. And Geoff is completely oblivious to Kate's concern about his longing obsession. The film moves at a glacial pace, but it contains enough intrigue to make you want to see how things develop (and the runtime is only 93 minutes). Just when you think that the relatively mundane lulls are waning your interest, a thought-provoking third act reveal shakes things up again. And in regards to Charlotte Rampling (ignorant Oscar comments aside), she gives a sharp and understated performance here, but it probably won't quite stir you like Brie Larson in Room or Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn.

The subtle, character study-driven 45 Years is a fine film about the late stages of marriage and how much things can still change, especially if a layer of time is frozen.


Monday, January 25, 2016

[Review] Ride Along 2

Ride Along was no masterpiece, but if you were willing to submit yourself to another middling buddy cop comedy, the film was toward the top of the usual January dump. And by that I mean--it was at least better than the Josh Gad vehicle The Wedding Ringer.

Ride Along 2 opens with an Iggy Azalea song, which is never a good sign, especially for a sequel that we never needed (or wanted). Ice Cube and Kevin Hart return here as the contrasting cop duo. These two are still good screen presences, but the story stinks. A criminal syndicate including a boss played by Benjamin Bratt and a hacker played by Ken Jeong (who seems to have transported from the trunk in The Hangover to this movie) is scheming in Miami. What they're trying to accomplish is never quite clear, but they're about as stock-villainy as it gets. Cube and Hart (I'm just going to call them that, because no one actually remembers their characters' names here) travel to Miami to investigate, in what ends up being one of the most cartoony live-action plots you'll ever see.

Most of the funny bits fall flat, whole scenes without an ounce of decent material pass by, stunts that aren't even at so-bad-it's-good level ensue, and it's all just a lazy rehash. The film is new, yet it somehow feels more dated than the first one. The best moment comes when Cube and Hart first see the profile picture of Ken Jeong, and Cube says "He look like a low-budget ass Jackie Chan." Then Kevin Hart innocently chuckles "That was a good one," and Ice Cube gives him a stone cold stare and says "I know." And that happens within the first 15 minutes, so the film peaks really early.

Ride Along 2 is the type of movie where you could fast forward through any given portion and you wouldn't really miss anything of value. You could also skip the entire movie and you wouldn't really miss anything of value.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

[Review] Theeb

Fresh off the announcement of Oscar nominees, the previously unavailable (for the most part) Foreign Language selections are finally making their way into theaters here in the United States. And that's the case with Theeb, a Jordanian coming-of-age desert trek.

Set in Hejaz (a western region of modern-day Saudi Arabia) during Word War I, this story is told through the eyes of the title character--a young boy (played by Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) learning the nomadic lifestyle of his tribe. Eventually, his older brother Hussein is tasked with guiding a British officer to the Ottoman Railway, and Theeb decides to tag along for the journey.

Sometimes walks through the desert can be a bit slow, dry, and sleepy on film, but director Naji Abu Nowar keeps things interesting. Here, he's gathered first time actors (who all do a swell job) and he presents them and their situations with significant realism. There's plenty of attention to detail for the desert's sounds and silences. And the scavenging, screentime-hungry flies (who constantly land on the actors' faces) lend a sense of raw and droughtful authenticity.

The wide, barren landscapes are nicely framed and shot with a crystal clear view, whether it's the rippling sand terrain or the peculiar formations of curvy mountain crevices. And as vast as the area is, danger is never very far away--which adds some engaging stakes to the narrative, especially when Theeb is separated from the group. A couple of staggering images crop up when Theeb falls into a waterhole while a shootout with raiders ensues.

Theeb is a poised directorial debut for Naji Abu Nowar, as well as an impressive acting display for Jacier Eid Al-Hwietat, who carries the majority of the load on his own. The film won't necessarily sweep you away, but it's certainly worthy of the respect it's receiving.