‘Doctor Strange’ Review

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Let me just start off by saying unlike all the other heroes who’ve gotten their own films in the MCU, I knew very little about Doctor Strange before going into it. All I knew was that he was way more mythical than the other characters we’ve seen so far and that he was kind of an asshole, and after seeing the film, I really only came out only gathering one of those things.

It’s clear that Marvel is shepherding Doctor Strange to become the next “Iron Man”, given they have similar character traits – or at least that’s what they’d want you to think. In fact, I felt like the film told us he was an asshole more than it actually showed us that. Don’t get me wrong, we see Strange be an ass to Rachel McAdams (in the most useless supporting role I’ve seen in quite some time, by the way), but that’s pretty much it the extent of it. He’s sort of an asshole before, out of the blue, he isn’t anymore.

When we do see Strange’s nasty ego come out, Benedict Cumberbatch nails it. But unlike what Jon Faverau did with the first Iron Man film and take his time to show us Tony progress from being a “bad” person into being a hero, Scott Derrickson is much more fixated on speeding by these small nuances in favor of the trippy action sequences. By trying to “wow” us instead of focusing on the story, we end up getting a (basic) origin story that doesn’t quite have a second act to show this transition in his character, as well as actually showing him train for these kick-ass fights. In fact, many times throughout it feels like learning about the main character was the least important aspect of the film.

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But, the film’s main selling point were the insane visuals – the only thing that saved Marvel’s ass when it came to marketing this film. The good news for Derrickson is that visuals are by far the best that we’ve ever seen in any MCU movie and I love how inventive the action scenes turned out to be, especially with the whole idea of “opening your mind”. This ultimately allowed us as audiences members to not be sure how it all was going to turn out, which was fun in the moment. However, the two issues with that are A.) It’s a Marvel movie, so in the end it can only turn out a few different ways and B.) this lack of “rules” leaves much of the world building unexplained or confusing, forcing viewers just to accept it and move on.

In fact, a lot of the film is just accepting the plot progression and moving on from it, which, as someone who isn’t quite familiar with the character, was quite odd. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in with this film, as if it were “too nerdy” for me to fully understand. Tilda Swinton is a bald, ancient wizard who loves folding buildings on top of each other, a cape has a mind of it’s own and murders a man, and spells are used to access dark universes and to stop/reverse time. It’s all crazy nonsense that never really has any logic (or depth) behind it, but man, if it doesn’t look cool as shit on the big screen. And yet after all these strange elements added in (pun intended), it still felt so familiar in the end, from the generic villain to the goofy resolution to a world-threatening problem.

Doctor Strange is a surface-level blockbuster that many will accept and probably love because, visually, it’s fantastic and it’s a ton of fun. That being said, the film is rushed, void of any depth and lacks any set of rules or guidelines for the character or world it sets itself in, something I fear Marvel will have to work around when Strange is introduced to other characters in this cinematic universe (which seems to be sooner than later). It’s undeniably entertaining, but as an introduction to the character, it really could have been better.

2.5/5

(-1/2 star for that horrendous Beyonce gag)

JURASSIC WORLD Review

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“We’re safe in here, right?”

Jurassic World beat me into fucking submission. It really did. Colin Trevorrow‘s dino feature is relentless and fits so many different concepts, themes, visual effects and characters in it’s unbelievably tight two-hour timeframe, you almost feel like you’re gonna go insane once the movie ends. It’s almost unfair how often this long-awaited sequel beats you down emotionally, but it also makes sense. A lot of people grew up with Jurassic Park and the expectations we all had for this film are almost unfair. So while we might not have gotten the “perfect sequel” that we all had hoped for, Trevorrow gives us enough to harken back to our grand memories of the original while also guiding us into uncharted territory, for better or worse. If anything, he proves that you don’t have to be (or imitate) Steven Spielberg to make a Jurassic Park film, something many people were worrying when he was first hired.

Now, opting to not even try copying Spielberg’s style was a smart decision, but Trevorrow’s vision as a director isn’t really “there”. He’s clearly a man of many ideas (a lot of which are great), but there isn’t any shots that stood out and he never guides the camera through the action to give me that sense of “awe” that I should be feeling with a film about dinosaurs. For example, entering “Jurassic World” was done with an awkward low angle side shot at the front doors – not a particularly grand entrance in any sense. However, this also in a way works with the film’s narrative (at least for the first half of the film).

See, this is a time where people have almost become bored of these dinosaurs. This might not be super obvious, due to all the people still at the park throughout the film, but there’s a scene where one of the young boys we follow in the film has a typical conversation with his mom while in the background, the terrifying T-Rex from the original film is stomping around, roaring and eating an animal. While this may be heartbreaking to some viewers (it certainly was to me; I hated that dipshit kid the rest of the film), it’s a clever idea to play around with. Now, I’m not suggesting that Trevorrow’s almost amateurish framing and overall direction is solely because of this concept he’s working with, but it could be. But maybe I’m being easier on him than I should be. Again, this only works as an argument for the first half and while there’s still more money-shots later on in the film, his lack of distinct vision isn’t present.

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And it’s not just behind the camera where his style isn’t very clear. The concept, like I said earlier, is a fantastic concept. It might seem a little too early for some to have a concept like this because this our first time seeing the park functioning. But, we need to keep in mind this is, in reality, the third sequel we’ve gotten to Jurassic Park. It was a concept that was necessary, especially today when general audiences seems to be a lot tougher to please in terms of entertainment. And with this, it takes its concept and turns it on its consumers; Jurassic World, both as a film and as the park, try to give their audiences something bigger, meaner, and more dangerous to keep everyone interested. And, in an extremely fascinating way, both end up failing in this respect.

Again, this obviously meta jab at large cooperations (“Verizon Wireless presents, the Indominus Rex!”, jokes a scientist played perfectly by Jake Johnson after hearing that the company wants to sponsor their next project) is playful and really clever, especially considering how mainstream this franchise is *and* when you consider it isn’t Spielberg making the film. Very ambitious to do, especially when this is only your second feature film and your first time breaking out in Hollywood. But, it starts to fall under the weight of its own ambitions when the “bigger means better” mentality starts oozing into the film’s actual plot progression.

The film eventually turns into a massive free-for-all and, because of this, many different characters are thrust into separate plot points, creating a messy narrative. The thing about the first film is that there really isn’t much to it. There isn’t a lot of action and you don’t really see too much of the dinosaurs. It was ultimately the idea that drove the film. Less is sometimes better than more, and that’s why other films that have been inspired by the film have failed to recapture the magic of it. This film is big, bombastic, and explosive, trying to outdo the original, and ultimately, making the film at-odds with what it’s trying to say. Then, the film awkwardly tries to force the idea of “don’t mess with the original” into its fun, but destructive climax, leaving me to wonder why Trevorrow even made this sequel if his two major themes afterwards were that and “bigger doesn’t always mean better”.

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But, enough with the negatives, because the film isn’t a giant shitstorm. In a way, it’s way smarter than most blockbusters are and its ambitions and personality are certainly much stronger than other similar films as well. And while the narrative as a whole is all over the place, there are some great ideas at play, most of which I already covered. The film also manages to make the plot point revolving the raptors utterly ridiculous, but at the same time make it work perfectly in the confines of the film.

Also, it was such a relief to find out that Bryce Dallas Howard‘s character was actually the lead of the film. Usually, you won’t find me trying to pick apart or praise films because of their “agenda” in terms of gender importance (for example, I don’t see Fury Road as a feminist film, but simply as a film). But here, it worked. I might have been thrown off simply because Chris Pratt was marketed much more than she was, but it left me surprised, which not many blockbusters, or films in general for that matter, can do. Misleading marketing for the win. It also helped that I throughly enjoyed all of the performances in the film (well, almost all of them).

While I really hated the older kid and his creepy perverted ways (as well as the fact that he was a total prick), the sense of adventure that he and his brother find even through all this mess is something that we actually haven’t seen since the original film. And this is why Jurassic World, to me, is best sequel in the franchise so far. Even though he visually has a hard time capturing the “wow” factor that Spielberg did and the script is a mess, Trevorrow gets his characters right, mainly the young and innocent ones. Again, it might be because this is the first time since ’93 we’ve been to some sort of “park”, but seeing the two brothers looking through the cracks of the park (literally) to find enjoyment and fun out of the moment is what sold the deal for me. He might not have the vision that Spielberg had, but his heart is just as big. It’s just more self-aware.

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Jurassic World is the thing it trashes and makes fun of, but the film is full of so many great ideas, concepts, and fun performances you can’t help but appreciate the wackiness of it all. It’s overstuffed and as a cohesive plot, it doesn’t entirely work, but there are moments scattered throughout that Trevorrow absolutely nails. Like, he really nails some scenes in the film, some of which include a hologram gag and another in which an action set-piece is shot and played out like a horror film. His heart is in the right place and he dares to do things with this franchise only few would dare to do, and for that, you have to congratulate the man.

It was announced that Trevorrow would not be returning to the inevitable sequel, and you can see why. He put everything he had into this film, and I don’t think he has anything else left to say in regards to the franchise. And while, yes, it might be a mess, it’s a personal, insane, and most importantly, a heartfelt one.

“Chappie” Review

Chappie is entertaining enough, but it completely falls apart in the end when it fails to add any depth to a story that had so many opportunities to bring up intriguing political and social commentary.
Chappie is entertaining enough, but it completely falls apart in the end when it fails to add any depth to a story that had so many opportunities to bring up intriguing political and social commentary.

Let’s take a second to step back and look at Neill Blomkamp‘s career so far. After becoming something of a poster boy after his fantastic feature debut District 9, a lot of people anticipated his follow-up Elysium, which had a intriguing premise, but was overall a disappointment. It was pretty much District 9 remade without the grit, a much higher budget, and with a much more heavy-handed execution of its messages.

So here we have Chappie, which is a weird beast of its own. With much less fanfare behind it than Elysium had, the film has pretty much flown under the radar. It also doesn’t help that Blomkamp’s recent announcement to make an Alien sequel has taken much of the spotlight from this film. And Sony’s piss-poor attempt at marketing the film has done it no favors either, painting the film in one trailer as a family-friendly robot movie and in another showing the film as a big-budget action spectacle. Well, it’s neither.

Chappie, while child-like at heart, is a dirty film. Blomkamp fills the screen with the dark and trashy slums of Johannesburg, while showcasing some colorful graffiti and weapons as well. These go much better with the vibrant characters the film throws at the audience, especially Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser. While their admittedly sketchy “gangsta” appearances match the murky and dangerous locations that Blomkamp chooses, their off-kilter character traits also supplement the color look trying to throw off the dark side.

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As for how the two actors, who are the singers in the group Die Antwoord, actually do acting in the film, they do what they’re meant to accomplish. Ninja was surprisingly strong playing himself(?), while Visser fares much worse. That being said, her poor deliverance of dialogue fits her character, who must teach Chappie how to learn and become his own person. So, like I said, she serves her purpose.

Surprisingly, it’s the more popular actors that don’t fare as well. Dev Patel does an admirable job acting, especially when you consider how shoddy his characterization is. He creates drama where there isn’t any, which might be annoying at times given the situation, but at least he’s trying. Meanwhile Hugh Jackman gets stuck with a horrible role of the jealous co-worker that just has to become an antagonist because you know, why not. And there were times where I actually forgot Sigourney Weaver was in the movie. She does nothing to move the story forward, so her character’s inclusion is still confusing.

Despite some character (and acting) flaws, Chappie breezes by is quite enjoyable. Chappie learns everything a little too quickly, but I felt for his character and thankfully Blomkamp avoided being too mushy with Chappie’s harsh “childhood”, which was my biggest concern. Chappie himself was very likeable and managed to carry the film. While not particularly deep at all, Chappie is an admirable look at raising a child, which in this case is obviously Chappie. Like I said, it’s never deep enough to offer up some juicy political or social bite (which surprised me, given how in-your-face Elysium was about its themes), but it gets the job done.

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That being said, the last ten minutes completely derail the film. I was perfectly fine with the film being a somewhat safe and predictable tale when the story didn’t necessarily leave much room for improvement. However, Blomkamp really tests his audience’s patience with the ending, pretty much undoing most of the hard work that the film had going towards it. It got to the point where the basic and simple vision of the film just wasn’t enough for some of the ambitious ideas it carries along. This leads to a horrific final shot, void of any emotion or deep consequences (those who’ve seen it will know what I’m talking about). Long story short: the twist the film throws at you doesn’t work. At all.

With Chappie, Neill Blomkamp returns to the small-scale world of District 9 and creates a visually stunning and entertaining flick. Sadly, the film is far too safe for its own good and seems to be afraid to ask the tough questions it hints at. So instead, it adds them in the film but manages to avoid actually answering them, leading to a very frustrating experience. It’s as if someone let Blomkamp make a mess around the house, and for a while it’s kind of fun to watch. It’s not too messy, but it surely gets a little out of hand. But when it comes to cleaning the mess, Blomkamp refuses to help because it’s too much work. The smart ideas and fresh political bite are all in sight, but Blomkamp never reaches for it, instead reeling in and hoping the slow-mo does the work.

Chappie is a fun movie to watch for a while, but once you realize it could have been so much more, you can’t help but leave disappointed. I’m kind of worried for the Alien sequel now, despite my undeniable love for District 9.

Grade: C+

“Gotham” Pilot Review

A slick, but ultimately empty pilot that banks way too much on nostalgia instead of forming a engrossing story to help differentiate this from other similar procedural shows.
A slick, but ultimately empty pilot that banks way too much on nostalgia instead of forming an engrossing story to help differentiate this from other similar procedural shows.

Fox’s Gotham had many Batman fans worried even since it was first announced. Telling yet another origin story, but this time from the point-of-view of Jim Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie)? Sounds like it could very easily have fallen into the same traps that every other procedural drama on television does. And even though it does feel a bit generic at times, Gotham shines thanks to some top-notch production values and some interesting performances. it’s just sadly boggled down by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia that deteriorates from the story at hand.

The main issue that I had with this first episode is that it felt like the producers thought that they absolutely had to feature as many references to all the characters that’d be making an appearance in the show, all into the one hour-long pilot. This ends up being problematic, because instead of setting up an intriguing story, we’re stuck with an annoyingly one-liners, referencing who certain characters will end up being in the future. “Quit with the riddles,” Harvey Bullock tells Edward Nygma, an already annoying twat that I hope isn’t featured heavily throughout the series. The Poison Ivy and Catwoman (or should it be Cat-Girl?) aspects to the episode especially feel forced.

Thankfully, the main actors pick up the scraps that they supporting cast left them. McKenzie is pretty strong as Gordon, a fan favorite character in the Batman lore. But, it was Robin Taylor as The Penguin that stood out to me. Although he’s different from the previous portrayal of the character that many people are used to (many still remember Danny DeVito‘s polarizing performance), he holds his own and seems like he’ll become quite a menacing character as the show progresses. And despite her moronic name, Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, is also an interesting character to add to the mix, if only because she plays a menacing female character. Even though I like her character now, I feel like I will grow tired of her in the next few episodes. Her character is one of those who tries soo hard to be a badass, and while she might seem threatening now, she could very easily become a joke.

Could The Penguin save this show from mediocrity?
Could The Penguin save this show from mediocrity?

Another component to the pilot that I enjoyed was how great it looked. The production design was solid, especially when compared to other cable television shows. Director Danny Cannon, whose work in film includes gems such as I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Goal! (sarcasm), does a great job setting the tone of Gotham, the dark and ugly underbelly of the world that many people try to avoid. And although its focus might seem a little narrowed-in on the crime aspect and not other things (is there anyone well-off in this incarnation of Gotham?), there’s still an entire season to cover these aspects. But, I will say that Cannon has improved a hell of a lot when you compare this to his filmography.

Overall, Gotham wasn’t great, but I never expected it to be. In fact, it’s quite solid, but it has some issues that it has to overcome if it wants to continue to keep my interest. So far, the show seems more interested in banking on the audience’s nostalgia when it comes to certain characters instead of forming a well thought-out storyline to help it differentiate from similar shows. The references come full-force in this opening episode, which is alarming, but the strong leads and nice visuals give me hope for this new show. But, it’s going to need more than just pretty sets and some quality performances for me consider this a success. But for an opening, it ain’t that bad.

Grade: C+

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Review

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“Cowabunga!”

If you seriously go into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles expecting high art, you really should adjust your expectations. This reboot of the cult franchise is about as generic as summer blockbusters get, but it gets by thanks to the great chemistry among the lead turtles and some very impressive set pieces later on.

Sadly, director Jonathan Liebesman has had problems showing off a distinct or even appealing visual eye in any of his previous films, and this one is no different. The first half of the movie is very ugly, especially the action sequences early on. Sometimes when handheld cameras are used, the framing is very awkward and the fights also become quite difficult to make out. It doesn’t help that Liebesman tries every so often to mimic his mentor Michael Bay (who serves as a producer here) with swooping pans and crane shots to balance out the “shaky cam” look. This reminded me of when Peter Berg tried to do the same thing with his big budget action flick Battleship a few years back. In other words, it doesn’t work.

However, the second half is significantly better than the first half, mostly because of a very impressive set piece that takes place on a snowy mountain later on. Not only is this scene pretty massive in scope (it might even be bigger than the climatic fight), but this scene is also visually striking, something that really threw me off after the pretty muddled visuals that are presented to the audience beforehand.

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Staying on the topic of visuals, the character designs for the turtles might seem weird at first, but they actually work and give each turtle their own distinct looks and traits. Also, one of the films villains, Shredder, looks pretty badass with his robotic samurai suit. So, in my opinion, the filmmakers got those set of characters right. However, Splinter looks absolutely disgusting here. I mean, he looks realistic, but that’s mainly why Splinter looks vile. He actually looks like a wet rat, and if I were Megan Fox, I wouldn’t let that thing anywhere near me.

Speaking of Megan Fox, she actually holds her own as the lead here, which is one of the aspects of the movie early on that is was hesitant about. She is presented as a strong, confident woman here (which has become something of a trend nowadays) and is completely different from her character in the Transformers movies. Despite doing a fine job leading the movie, though, her character herself isn’t given much to do, as is the rest of the cast. So, I wouldn’t go in expecting much when it comes to character development. Whoppi Goldberg‘s character and Shredder have it the worst, though.

Thankfully, the chemistry among the four turtles is quite strong and help carry the film to the finish line, so to speak, once they’re involved in the story. Michelangelo has always been my favorite of the bunch, and he’s easily the most enjoyable here as well. But, all the other turtles leave impressions as well. All of the actors seem to be having fun with their roles, which always leads to better performances. But to no surprise, Leonardo, whose motion capture work was done by Pete Ploszek, is the least memorable of the bunch, which is probably because of the lazy voiceover work done by Johnny Knoxville late in the game.

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Now, while the film might have some impressive set pieces later on and some strong and entertaining chemistry among the titular characters, the story is nothing original. In fact, it’s probably one of the more cliched plots that I’ve seen in a summer blockbuster in quite some time. Granted, most people probably don’t go into a movie like this expecting a complex and intelligent script, but they couldn’t have put just a little more effort into the writing? Also, the “race against time” plot device that this film utilizes towards the end always pisses me off whenever it’s used in a movie, so I didn’t like that the movie ended with this.

When it’s all said and done, this modern-day re-imagining of the Ninja Turtles isn’t the atrocity that many of you assumed it would be. Yes, it’s a very messy film when you look it from all different angles, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s not only funny and entertaining, but it also delivers a strong female lead performance when many assumed it’d be quite the opposite. As long as Liebesman (assuming he returns for the next one) works on improving his own visual style instead of trying to replicate others and there’s a better script at hand, this updated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise might become a guilty pleasure for me. It just might.

Grade: C+

“Sex Tape” Review

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“Nobody understands the cloud! It’s a fucking mystery!”

At least Sex Tape isn’t the worst comedy to have come out this year (that honor goes to the dreadful Tammy). However, it is worse than this summer’s Blended, and that’s not a movie that I’d particularly call “funny” or “enjoyable”. As it stands, this raunchy comedy is at the same time too vulgar and too safe for its own good, which in turn leads to a very uneven and sometimes awkward film with some terrible writing as well.

When it comes to the acting, I don’t have much to complain about. Cameron Diaz does her best with the material she’s given and it seems like she’s having fun with her role. And I’ve always liked Jason Segel, so even though he doesn’t do much here, he’s still enjoyable. The rest if the cast does fine (it’s a comedy, you shouldn’t expect Oscar-worthy performances) and there’s one cameo later in the film that is quite a pleasant surprise. Nothing too spectacular, but I did find it to be quite funny.

And that’s where my praise towards this film ends. Sadly, there isn’t enough story here to sustain a 90-minute movie Simple as that. Alas, the filmmakers found a way to fill the time, but this leads to more time giving the audience that unneeded sentimentality that most people already hate seeing in these type of films. Usually, comedies lay on sentimentality in the last act of the film, but here, it’s everywhere. This, of course, is because there just isn’t enough story to actually tell.

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Screenwriters Kate Angelo, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller don’t even try to give us a story worth being told. And if they did, then they did a terrible job at it. The lead’s just don’t do much in the movie, that’s what the problem is. They go to their friends’ house, they go to her boss’ house and then they very briefly go to a Porn Company’s headquarters with their kids (good parenting, right?). It all just feels like a game instead of something serious and it doesn’t help that nothing really important or noteworthy happens at all in the movie. Well, there’s that twist at the end…but God, that was awful. And also a bit creepy. But mostly just awful.

Not only this, but the film just doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. From the name alone, you’d assume it’s a hard-R comedy. But,it at times feels like one of those corny love stories that you’d find on the Hallmark Channel. That is to say, this film gets a bit awkward when it shifts from a family breakfast scene to a graphic look at the couple’s porno. When someone towards the end tries to give the two advice and asks them why they love each other, they use the word “fuck” so many times to the point where it just feels like the filmmakers are messing with you. It’s kinda like they made it feel like a romantic movie for the ladies and a sexy movie for the guys, but they just failed at mashing the two together.

Overall, Sex Tape is one of those films that tries to be crazy and over-the-top, but at the same time falls for a lot of the lame romantic cliches we’re used to seeing, leading to a very awkward movie-going experience as a whole. Add to the fact that there is pretty much no story to tell, this film ends up being for no specific group of people or audience. if you’re gonna make a sex comedy, make a sex comedy. Don’t try to appeal to everyone, even if it could possibly attract more people. This is why. You end up with confused, unfocused messes like this. Except this one isn’t good period, thanks to it’s uninspired and lazy script. But hey, we got to see Cameron Diaz naked and Jason Segel hit a dog, so I guess that’s a plus…?

“If the mailman has seen my vagina, we’re moving.”

“The Purge: Anarchy” Review

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“Stay safe.”

The Purge was one of my most anticipated films last year, but it turned out being extremely disappointing. And I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. In fact, many people I know absolutely hated the movie and said that they definitely wouldn’t see this sequel. And for a long time, I didn’t plan on seeing this one either. However, once the marketing kicked in, I realized something: this is what the first Purge should have been, but since they had budgetary constraints, they couldn’t do much. Now, with the sequel, they could finally make the film that many movie-goers wanted to see in the first place.

Sadly, this is one of those cases where the film tries to cram way too much into a short amount of time. There are a lot of cool and interesting ideas on display here, but there is so much going on all at once that all these plot points get all jumbled up, creating a huge mess. And trying to make the film longer would only worsen things, as the film can get quite dull during its “quieter” moments, due to some uninteresting and, quite frankly, stale dialogue provided by writer/director James DeMonaco.

Ironically, the whole “Anarchy” aspect of the film feels the most out of place here. It never feels developed enough and there’s not much build-up to it, leading to a quite anti-climatic conclusion to that section of the story. They could have easily saved this aspect for the inevitable sequel, and I really do hope that they bring it back because that story had potential. But like I said, it just gets meshed in with all the other plot points, which in way turns it into nothing more than a slightly amusing sub-plot.

Something that I will give DeMonaco credit for is that, despite both of these Purge films being less than stellar, they both feel like they’re at least trying to be ambitious and deliver some sort of social commentary, something that can’t be said about most horror films today. Now, this is more of an action-survival flick than it is a horror film like the first one, taking cues from The Warriors and Escape from New York, which I actually liked better than the slasher aspect of the first one. This is what most people wanted out of the first one, anyway. And even though it is slow at times, a lot of what happens in the film kept me intrigued and to my surprise, the film wasn’t as predictable as I thought it would be.

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Anarchy also has a stronger lead performance this time around, thanks to Frank Grillo. Playing a character who is essentially The Punisher from the Marvel movies, Grillo carries the film on his back and yet again proves why he’s one of the more underrated actors working today. Without him, this movie probably would have derailed, as the rest of the actors leave something to be desired.

The open-world look on this “holiday” is just what this sequel needed, because without it, I doubt many people would have even wanted to see this. It gave the sequel more room to work with and more situations to display that they couldn’t quite show in the first installment. Sadly, DeMonaco tries to stuff way too much into one movie, causing the film to feel quite bloated and even convoluted with all the different gangs and people to follow. This is the main issue that I had in the film (as well as some of the acting), but I admire the ambition on display here, even if it mostly fails.

An admirable step-up in quality and thrills when compared to the first film, but DeMonaco just isn’t skilled enough as a director or writer to tackle these admittedly intriguing ideas all at once. Maybe next time he won’t “release the beast” like the rest of the Purgers and take a step back to either work on writing better characters and dialogue or focus on some smaller, but more interesting ideas that this franchise has in store, particularly what happens after said “purging”. But then you’d just have those idiots saying that there wasn’t enough action or killing in it, even if it was a better movie because of that. That’s America for you, ladies and gentlemen.

“We’ll see you on the hunting ground!”

2.5 out of 5

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Review

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“War has already begun.”

It hurts me to say this, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not as great as everyone is making it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still really good. It has an admirable vision for the world and the characters in the film, the emotional weight for this one is arguably heavier than it is in Rise, and the visuals are even more spectacular this time around. However, many of the supporting characters are very weak and sometimes the story is a little more cliched than I had wish it’d been, which in turn brings down the film a few notches.

Throughout the movie, there were two clashing conclusions that I kept coming to until the very final frame: “Damn, this is one ballsy studio movie…” and “Damn, they really played that part safe…”. Scenes like the opening fifteen or so minutes of the film where there is no spoken dialogue at all or whenever Koba is up to something sinister were somewhat surprising to see in a film of this kind (which, by the way, is MUCH darker than the first one in this reboot series). But, there were some plot points where you could tell the studio pulled the reigns on director Matt Reeves just enough to not totally offend the general audiences.Reeves does the best with what he’s allowed to do with the rating, though.

Like I said earlier, the film’s emotional impact is possibly even greater than it was in Rise, which was already quite an emotional film. Caesar is clearly the main character here, unlike last time where he arguably shared that role with James Franco‘s character. Throughout most of the film, Caesar is torn between trusting the humans or attacking them, but his most important duty is to protect his family, which he goes to great lengths to do, no matter the cost. Like usual, Andy Serkis gives one hell of a performance this time around, but Caesar’s arc gives him more to work with this time around than when compared to the material given to him for Rise.

However, this same theme of “family” isn’t carried over with the lead human character, Malcolm, played by Jason Clarke. There was potential to link the two different species with the family theme, but Malcolm’s kid and love interest aren’t giving much to do. This leaves us with hints towards yet another similarity between the two different types (something the film constantly tries to remind us), but never quite uses it to the fullest of its potential.

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But, I did like all the other comparisons between to two different kinds. In reality, both sides could and should be considered “animals”. Both sides hunt and kill to survive, but what makes one side more evil than the other? This is angle that the film thankfully uses to its advantage. The fact of the matter is that there are no “true” villains in this movie. Some might be a bit more misguided when it comes to their views, but everyone has a “point” or some sort of reasoning behind their actions, something that most films don’t dare to touch on today.

Though we already have the family aspect that drives both Caesar and Malcolm to do what they do, Gary Oldman‘s character and Koba, the scarred chimp from the labs in Rise, also have their own views. Whether it’s for family, for revenge, or for the sake of an entire race, all of these characters have something that’s worth fighting for, and you’re never flat-out hating any one character, even though Koba’s ideals and actions are much harder to get behind. But, you can clearly see why he’s doing what he’s doing, especially if you’ve seen Rise.

Sadly, the story can be cliched at times, which is quite sad, given some of the heavier themes and messages that the film has to offer to us. The film has some obvious influences (which I will not name here), leading you to easily predict the outcome of many situations throughout the film. The story definitely isn’t bad, but it sure as hell isn’t original. Also, there are some different (and better) directions that the film could have taken later in the in the second act of the movie, but it sadly resorts to the more reliable and “safe” route, which can be disappointing at times.

Overall, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is emotionally heavy, carries some interesting themes and ideals, and has some phenomenal special effects. I really didn’t talk about the special effects, but let’s just say they’re some of the best I’ve ever seen, and that’s no joke. Sadly, some predictable plotting and underdeveloped characters drag it down a bit, but not enough for it to be considered a disappointment in my book. A very solid effort that I’d say is about as good as Rise, but I’d hesitate to call it “great”. But then again, how many movies can make apes riding horses not only look realistic, but also completely badass?

“Malcolm, they’re animals!”

4 out of 5

“Tammy” Review

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“Muscle shirts are for muscles!”

What’s the best film to watch after seeing Trainspotting and Shallow Grave? Well, obviously the most logical choice would be Tammy, right?

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.

This “movie” is bad. “What makes it bad?” you might ask. Well, let’s start with the story. It’s your basic road-trip movie, except for the fact that they go absolutely nowhere. Screw where they are, all you need to know is that they hit up a bar and a lesbian party. That’s it. That’s honestly all that happens. There is no sense of location or setting here at all. All I know is that this film took place somewhere around Missouri. Everything else is just filler fat jokes to pass the time by. WE GET IT, MELISSA McCARTHY IS FAT. HOLY SHIT. But what about the story or setting? Nope? Okay.

Now, the leads of this film, McCarthy and Susan Sarandon, have no chemistry together, so it made this experience much more painful. Neither of their characters are likable in any way, shape, or form, and I’m sorry, but McCarthy looked absolutely repulsive in this. I’m not sure if the director (who is actually McCarthy’s husband) wanted to make her look like that, but if I was her and I was being presented as a fat, ugly woman who only gains laughs from jokes about her weight or her looks, I’d beat the living shit out of him. But, you know, money.

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So, apparently, this was McCarthy’s “passion project”. If this was her passion project, then I’m sorry, but she should never been involved in making a film ever again. Everything about this film is terrible. The camera shots are some of the laziest I’ve ever seen in comedy or any film for that matter, the only laughs that this film delivers are from the supporting actors, most of which only have around five minutes of screen-time, and there really isn’t a story at all. So, it’s 97 minutes of NOTHING.

What saddens me is that there is a lot of talented filmmakers out there with great ideas, but instead, we get films like this. A dull, lifeless “comedy” that is nothing but a paycheck for everyone involved (except for McCarthy, apparently). I mean, it physically hurts me to see the likes of Mark Duplass and Dan Aykroyd wasting their talents on films like this. They deserve much better. Hell, I guarantee you that producers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell only produced this “film” to get in on some quick cash, hoping to bank on the lead actress’ popularity.

Ugh. Fuck this movie. At least with films like I, Frankenstein and Winter’s Tale, even though they were shit, it felt like the filmmakers actually cared about their work. Here, it doesn’t even feel like anyone was trying at all. And the worst part? $20 million was spent on this piece of shit. $20 MILLION.

Melissa McCarthy, you were funny in Bridesmaids, but now you just piss me off. Please leave us alone.

“I feel like we’re getting somewhere, and that, like, under different circumstances we’d probably be good pals.”

1 out of 5

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” Review

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

“Dad, we can’t go home. They blew it up.”

Transformers: Age of Extinction doesn’t deserve a star rating. It’s so mind-bogglingly stupid and mindless at times that the film should only receive a half a star, if that. But, other times, the film is soo batshit insane and absurd that you can’t help but watch in total awe and amazement and not be impressed. I’m so torn by this movie that it’s ridiculous. But, no matter what your thoughts on the franchise as a whole are, you can’t deny that whoever replaces Bay as the director for the next film has some MASSIVE shoes to fill.

Speaking of Bay, this is easily the definitive Michael Bay movie; it even manages to top his 2003 sequel Bad Boys 2 in total “Bay-ness”. I have never seen so much senseless destruction presented on-screen before and in such a manner that I’m even having a hard time describing it. It’s not bleak and depressing like Dark of the Moon or fun and playful like the first film. No, no, no…Age of Extinction is in its own damn category of craziness. Think Pacific Rim mixed with the likes of Crank: High Voltage. This film tries soo hard to feel like a once in a lifetime event that it actually turns out being one, even if the story doesn’t support this wild vision that Bay had for the film.

In fact, the films plot is pretty simple; a shady black-ops organization attempts to hunt down the remaining Transformers so that they can create their own from the DNA of the fallen robots from the Chicago incident. But, a single father stumbles upon one of the Transformers in hiding, causing him, his daughter, and her boyfriend to get caught up in a secret war. Simple enough right? Well, when it comes to a Michael Bay movie, there’s always more than meets to eye (sorry, I couldn’t help it).

The lead villain, Lockdown, is where the film starts wearing its stupidity proudly. It would have been alright just to have him be a badass bounty hunter, but to work with the humans, specifically Kelsey Grammer? I mean, come on. First off, how did they even come in contact to make this “deal” to take out the Transformers? It’s not like they had a lovely long-distance phone call, right? But, you know, fuck me sideways, because the film doesn’t give a rats ass if you realize that or not. So, like the plot of the film, I’ll move on.

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Next, the film sets up what the audience is led to believe will become the “true” lead villain with this massive set-up and the fact that, you know, the films plot changes because of this character and his motivations. But nope, I guess we’ll just have to deal with the bland villain that’s only purpose is to capture Optimus Prime. “What’s he supposed to do with him after that? And what about that other villain?” you might ask. To which Michael Bay responds, “Hahahaha, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the sequel will…BAM!!!!!! Did you see that explosion?”.

Enough with the villains. Let’s focus on the humans. The first hour or so of the film is spent building up certain characters that we assume we’ll follow and learn more about as the film progresses. Wrong. Mark Wahlberg‘s character is really one-note: try to act smart, be an asshole to his daughters boyfriend, and constantly talk about how cool the alien gun that he has is.

Speaking of the boyfriend, it’s revealed that he’s older than his girlfriend and that it’s illegal to be with her due to her age (I didn’t know Michael Bay wanted to add some elements of his life into the story…). All kidding aside, that was kind of creepy and as a father, I’d be furious about that. But not Walhberg, because one scene later they’re all “buddy-buddy”. I guess that’s not really a big deal at all.

Now, it’s time to talk about the most asnine, absolutely preposterous element of the film: the Dinobots. Just let that sink in. Dinobots. If that name didn’t make you cringe already, just wait until you see Optimus Prime ride one of them into battle. Yeesh.

Okay, okay, now it just sounds like in ripping this film a new asshole, but now I’m onto the good. Trust me. Because despite all the negatives I just pointed out, there actually is a lot to be amazed by in this installment.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

Remember when I brought up how the film tried to be bigger than the plot had any right to be? Well, because of this, Bay gives audiences what is probably the most narratively confused and jumbled plot that any film has dared to take ownership of. But, this film embraces that and takes you along for the ludicrous, but undeniably entertaining ride. You, like the filmmakers, have no idea where the plot is heading, sending every character and you, the audience member, into a frenzy. This is actually interesting because I honestly had no idea where the film was heading towards the end.

Also, some of the actors involved seem to have realized how dumb the movie actually was, so they hammed up their performances up to the absolute max. The actor that comes to mind when I say this is Stanley Tucci. He is responsible for a lot of the films laughs and is honestly the only character the film actually decides to develop in its nearly three-hour runtime. Watching him yelp and cruse at old Chinese ladies made me realize that he’s perfect for Bay’s type of idiotic humor and should work with him more often.

Also, the film focuses more on the Autobots instead of the human characters after the first section of the movie. This is probably a negative to most people looking for a thought-provoking movie, but this is Transformers, so fuck you. The action was exhilarating and had my jaw slumped on the ground more than a few times. Somehow, Bay managed to top the Chicago finale in the last installment, and that’s no easy task. Just keep those damn Dinobots away. That’s all I ask.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

Not only that, but the film also has moments where it genuinely tries to be a “good” movie. The artsy camera shots early on, the whole scene about how humans make mistakes, and other moments that feel powerful (well, for a Transformers movie) and you feel like Bay has finally stopped dropping acid for a second to try and actually tell a story in between all the glorious mayhem.

All in all, Age of Extinction is a mess of epic proportions. It refuses to follow any sort of three-act narrative and just mashes the middle of the film into the climax, which leads to an exhausting viewing experience. The filmmakers don’t seem to care if it all makes sense or not either, they just want to make sure the damn thing worth the price of admission on a huge movie screen. Not many films actually warrant the need to see it in a movie theater, so I give Bay some respect for trying to outdo every action movie to give people spectacle like they’ve never seen before. And if any film demands to be seen on the big screen, it’s this bad boy.

This sequel/reboot is probably the most relentless and insane blockbuster that I’ve ever seen. Not only that, but I’m honestly convinced that this is the first big-budget movie that has actually strived to be daft and moronic as well. Thank you Michael Bay for the experience, even though I’m not entirely sure if I loved it or just absolutely hated it.

“How do you say “get the fuck out of the way” in Chinese?”

3.5 out of 5 (but in reality, this film defies an actual rating)