Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ten Statements About....FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

"Hey, guys...I built one of those motors you used to
find in your toys!"
“You're counting on these guys? A guy who can stretch, a girl I can't see, a human torch...I don't even know what he is.”

1) Man, this is one dark movie--not dark as in somber, but dark as in dark.  The film seems to take place in a continual twilight, and there are moments when you literally can’t figure out what is going on.

2) I’m sorry, but I don’t believe Miles Teller’s Reed is one of the smartest boys in the world.  There’s something...petulant about his performance that makes his Reed unbelievable.

3) You know what is the major problem with this film?  It’s that the leads are exactly the same person.  They’re all teens-to-young-adult geniuses who can easily see how to build a gate to another dimension.  With the exception of one brief sequence depicting Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny loving speedy cars (an aspect that is dropped immediately after it is introduced), they’re given no indication of a life outside of the lab.

4) Boy, is the sight of a pantless Thing disturbing.

"Sir, I've seen photos of Doom.  I've read about Doom.  You, sir,
are no Doom."
5) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again...when you change enough of the backstory of a property, it no longer is that property.  And this should probably have been named something else to divorce it from the property it claims to be.

6) The pacing of this film is truly out of whack.  It take almost half the film for our heroes to gain their powers, about three quarters before the menace is introduced, and it can be argued the film is almost over (counting the credits, which had to eat up seven or eight minutes, there was twenty minutes left) before the actual conflict arises.  I know director Josh Trank has done one good super-hero-y movie before, so I can’t understand why he lets this one get all lopsided.

7) Yeah, a sinister government organization looking to weaponize our heroes.  Because we haven’t seen that before...

This is as brightly lit as this film gets...
8) Why isn’t being super-smart enough for directors when it comes to Doctor Doom?  Giving him ill-defined abilities does not make him more menacing; it makes him more generic.

9) I swear, it seems like Trank is more interested in making a horror movie.  The trip to the alternate dimension and the sequence where the Sinister Government Organization is testing/examining our heroes is played out as something disturbing.

10) Okay, so Reed escapes from the Sinister Government Organization before they give the other three the suits that control their powers, right?  Then why is Reed wearing one of these suits when they track him down to South America?

Overall...dark, dismal and tedious, this is a Superhero Movie That Doesn’t Want To Be A Superhero Movie at its worst.  Avoid.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ten Statements About....10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)

"You're going to play Barrel of Monkeys Giant
Size Edition or else!"
“People are strange creatures. You can't always convince them that safety is in their best interest."

1) Mary Elizabeth Winstead owns this movie, and not just because she is the main character.  A lesser actress would be subsumed by John Goodman’s performance, but Winstead is able to keep the viewer’s attention, and gain his or her sympathy.

2) That’s not to take away from Goodman, who manages to walk a fine line between being creepy and being...well, sort of melancholic.  He keeps the suspense in this film running smoothly because he creates a character with different facets, so that when we’re sure he’s one thing we get some indication he might be something else.

3) That being said...there’s something that Winstead discovers towards the end of the second act that is pretty much unnecessary.  It adds nothing to the narrative, and diminishes Goodman from this interesting character to a cliche.  The whole subplot can be excised whole.

And up there you might find Roseanne's career...
4) You know what else can be excised whole? John Gallagher Jr.’s Emmett.  I get that he’s there so that Winstead’s Michelle has someone to explain things to, but Winstead and the director are talented enough to convey the things that need to be conveyed without Regulation Expository Dialogue.

5) Maybe it’s because it’s not used to punctuate violence like it’s used so many other places, but the use of 50‘s and 60‘s pop music here manages to be creepy, emphasizing the situation without slipping into the parodic.

6) I dunno...if you introduce an acid supposedly so toxic it’ll strip human flesh to the bone, you should show someone who falls into a pool of it has more than just a crispy temple....

7) Give ‘em credit...they introduce something, they use something.

8) The big revelation...I’m not sure about it.  Yeah, it’s there to cement the connection between this film and the original, but the way it’s shot is confusing and manages to obscure more than it reveals.  However...

Not time for a selfie, Mary Elizabeth....
9) This revelation does manage to throw Goodman’s Howard into a different life.  It makes you wonder how different the film would be if it concentrated solely on Howard’s survivalist tendencies and didn’t stray into the cliches it embraced earlier.

10) The ending seems to promise a sequel, which really isn’t necessary. My hope is that J.J. Abrams follows through on his original intention of making the Cloverfield franchise into an anthology of unrelated stories set in the same universe.

Overall...worthwhile for the excellent performances by Winstead and Goodman.  If you’re looking for something else, well...shrug.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ten Statements About....PASSENGERS (2016)

"Boy the commissary has gone all to crap..." 
"Who planted a tree in the middle of my ship?"

1) Boy, Jennifer Lawrence sure is purty.

That is all.

Wait, you want more?  Well....

2) What does it say about your movie that the most sympathetic character is an android that spends most of its time polishing glasses?

3) There are moments in this film that work as set porn--scenes such as the ones in The Observatory, the space just outside the ship and The World’s Coolest Swimming Pool are pretty damn good looking, and give you a hint at what was going through the creator’s mind instead of, you know, logical character development and the like.

"I am so serious about safe sex!"
4) While it’s obvious that the film expects you to identify with Chris Pratt’s Jim, it’s hard to have sympathy with him when he does something truly heinous to bring Lawrence’s Aurora into the film.  And when that heinous thing is exposed, the film refuses to let Jim have the comeuppance he deserves.  Hell, the script rewards him for this supremely dickish act.

5) This is a film that forces one of the main characters to do a total 360 in attitude because the third act wouldn’t work without it...and that sudden about-face sours said third act.

6) Gee, Laurence Fishburne--thanks for waking up from suspended animation long enough to serve as Captain Exposition and hand our protagonists a (literal) magic ticket before dying of Mysterious Movie Illness.

Yep...best special effect in the film....
7) And speaking of that magic ticket...we’re told, in no uncertain terms, that the protagonists cannot return to suspended animation.  But once they get that magic ticket, they find out that’s not the case.  Good job keeping your own rules straight, movie.

8) Why can our protagonists (no way I’m calling them heroes) survive such hazards as a vacuum, decompression, and nuclear freakin’ fire with little or no ill effects?  Well, because the script needs them to...

9) I give the movie credit for coming up with a unique starship design.  There’s something elegant in the way it moves forward that’s quite attractive.

10) I don’t know about you, but if I was the ship’s captain, I’d be pretty pissed at the way our protagonists leave the Grand Concourse for them.

Overall...while there are a few grace notes that almost let us forget about the shoddiness of the script, it’s hard to get away from the fact that it’s a sloppy little entry.  Add in a really awful, nonsensical third act, and you have something that’s Not Very Good A’Tall.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ten Statements About....CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

"Hello.  I am your designated scenery chewer for this
evening
"Ghosts are real.  This much I know."

1) Mia Wasikowska’s Edith does not work as a heroine.  She is set up as a self-reliant, progressive and clever woman only to--almost literally at the flip of a switch--become a weak-kneed softie for the duration of the film.  We’re supposed to think it’s because of her feelings for Tom Hiddleston’s Thomas...except that she is resistant to him with no hint of her weakness for a stretch of the first act.

2) ...of course, it might be because Wasikowska and Hiddleston have no chemistry whatsoever, which especially makes Thomas’ story arc nonsensical.  We don’t believe in his change of heart because we have no faith in his feelings for Edith.

3) This film is way too long, and is rife with scenes that could be cut, especially in the first act.  I suspect the story would flow much better if it lost fifteen minutes to a half hour.
"I know we have no chemistry, but the script demands it, so..."

4) Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that the ghosts that are supposed to be a major crux of the film...don’t do anything essential to the plot.  They’re incidental to the point where you could cut them out whole and, with very slight re-jiggering, still have a movie.  This might have worked better, given that the ghosts’ presence in the film makes Edith come off as rather dim.

5) In a film where so many of the principles underplay their roles. you gotta give Jessica Chastain credit for so vigorously biting into the scenery.  She’s wound so tightly that your eyes are drawn to her even when she’s in the background.

6) I’m with Ian Loring and Mark Foster on this--Guillermo del Toro has it in for faces.  Even butterfly faces get mangled in this movie.
Mia doesn't want to look at the reviews inside that bucket...

7) Seeing and enjoying Burn Gorman in a small but pivotal role makes me come to the conclusion that it was the writing on Torchwood that made me hate his character and not him. Or that del Toro knows how to use him.

8) Given that del Toro’s script he collaborated on with Matthew Robbins was trying to re-create a 19th century Gothic, I wonder if they should have dispensed with any supernatual aspect whatsoever and focused on the madness and machinations that the film wants to revel in.

9) What was the point of the scene where Charlie Hunnam’s doctor shares his passion of spirit photography with Edith?  It never comes into play again.  But then, for a character who shows up in the third act simply so Edith has someone to walk into the snowstorm with, it’s not surprising he has little in the way of characterization.

10) Even though I didn’t care for the ghosts’ presence in the film, I do appreciate the look of them, especially the way you can see flashes of the ghost’s human forms when light hits them.

Overall...a vast disappointment from del Toro which suffers from a lack of chemistry between its two leads and a script that doesn’t know what it wants to accomplish.

This time I went to the UA Midway, the first time I had been there for close to two decades.  It’s the last theater standing in the main shopping district of Forest Hills, which once played host to five in walking distance of each other.  The staff was uncommonly friendly, but the projectionist screwed up the tracking for the dreaded Firstlook.  When this was brought to the staff’s attention, we were informed that the picture will stabilize at the time the feature started.  Horror films dominated the trailers with the exception of The Night Before, which focused on one character barfing in a church.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ten Statements About....SSSSSSS (1973)

"I'm your boyfriend now, Christine...."
“You are a real and a bona fide genius. First one I ever met."
“It's rare to be appreciated for one's failures."

1) What makes this film effective for much of its running time is the understated performance by Strother Martin.  We know this man is a mad scientist from frame one, and yet he’s so mild and laid back that you almost forget how sinister his intentions are....

2) ...at least until that third act (get used to this phrase).  Once we hit that last twenty minutes or so, the actors start behaving irrationally.  It’s almost as if the script is hurrying the actions along because they know their time is up.

3) Wow...Reb Brown was broad even in his youth.  At least he dies without screaming his character’s name.

4) The use of real reptiles throughout the film does give the movie a creepy feel.  Although the creepiest thing in the movie aren’t the snakes but the mongoose Strother keeps around for....whatever.
This is a snake drinking booze.  Your arguments are
no longer valid.

5) Not surprisingly, there is a romance between Dirk Benedict’s David and Heather Menzies’ Christine that doesn’t work.  There’s no organicness their coupling, and seems to be there because, well, the script requires the two to make like a couple.

6) Bernard Kowalski does something very effective when Benedict starts changing.  Instead of solely shooting the actor from behind (although there is some of that), Kowalski does show him from a slight distance so that we know something’s...off about him.   This creates a sense of unease that culminates in a great shock cut.

7) I don’t think the film needed the deaths-by-snake in the late second and third acts.  They contribute to the disintegration of Martin’s performance, and seems to be there solely to give the viewer some violence to keep them engaged.

"You haven't thought of a coherent ending? Nooooooooo!"
8) There are some really disquieting make-up effects in this film, beginning with the ‘shedding’ and carrying through to the appearance of the monstrous characters themselves...at least until the third act, where we learn what Strother Martin’s real intentions are.  And speaking of that third act...

9) What. The. Hell. was that ending all about?  No, really, the last ten minutes makes so little sense it almost serves to tear down the hour and a half that came before it.  And you’re telling me that Christine could recognize what Dick has become instantly?

10) Why do they make such a big deal about this rare Amazonian snake--Christine mentions it a couple of time, goes to the shipping station and waits for its arrival--when there’s no pay off to this aspect?

Overall... until the third act just wrecks everything, this is a very low-key, creepy at times, little mad scientist throwback.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ten Statements About....TREMORS (1989)

"I smell BACON!"
1) This film knows one of the great secrets of making an effective creature feature--Keep It Simple.  The script sets up the situation, doesn’t dwell on such unnecessary things as back stories and rationales for its creature and just goes.   And knowing the momentum and tension has to keep ratcheting up makes it easier for us to get caught up.

2) There’s a great chemistry between Kevin Bacon’s Val and Fred Ward’s Earl, and that helps to give the film a gravitas and forward movement it might not otherwise have.  Nowhere does these two give us much in the way of their history, but we still know what we need to know about these two from their banter and rapport that we can identify with.

3) I find it highly amusing that this film uses bad reception as a rationale for not getting help long before such an explanation was needed due to cell phones.

Just another NRA Saturday Night....
4) Another benefit from the film’s plot being so simple is that it allows us time for character moments with everyone in the cast so that no one, not even Michael Gross’ and Reba McIntire’s survivalist couple comes off as a cardboard cliche.

5) It’s a breath of fresh air that Finn Carter’s resident scientist doesn’t have knowledge of all sciences.  She does give us insight into the creatures’ nature, but only the insight specific to her specialized knowledge.  And speaking of that scientist....

6) I thoroughly don’t buy the romance between Carter and Bacon.  The script gives us absolutely no hint of an attraction at any time, and just drops the coming together as a coda of the story.  It also doesn’t help that Bacon has more chemistry with Ward than he does with Carter....

7) I will always applaud a film that has faith in practical effects.  In this case, said practical effects gives the monsters a weight and sense of life that I can’t see them having with CGI.

8) I’m pleased that the final resolution of the monster problem is one that the residents of Perfection could come up with by themselves.  There’s no macguffin, no scientific hocus pocus, just a bunch of
people with a knowledge of their land and a couple of homemade explosives.

9) Being just a shade over ninety minutes helps this film immeasurably.  It’s just long enough for the script to give us some dimension to its characters and give us a couple of creepy portents before the monsters come and it becomes a bit of a thrill ride.  Once we get the creepy crawlies (literally!), it’s hyperfocused on the plot at hand.
"I've heard of blockages before, but..."

10) I don’t know if the film’s country western soundtrack works.  Sure, the dissonance between old timey cowboy songs with being swallowed by a monster works in one scene, but the other songs seem obtrusive, especially the closing credit ditty, which seems there solely to let Reba sing something.

Overall...an effective, entertaining creature feature that does what it says on the tin, buoyed further by some good chemistry by its leads and an excellent, well-designed and grimy monster.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ten Statements About....THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Sometimes these fights for top billing can get hairy...
1) I’m ready to call it; Guy Ritchie should only do period pieces from now on.  Just as with the Sherlock Holmes films, Ritchie is able to catch the feel visually and aurally of the 60‘s in this movie.  Such things as  the frequent use of split screen only emphasizes this.

2) I like the use of a variant of the trick Ritchie used in the Holmes film, this time rewinding time to show us information we didn’t originally have.

3) Of course, the most 60‘s thing about this movie is Alicia Vikander’s Gaby.  Given her modest figure and impeccable poise, she’s able to rock those Mod fashions something fierce.  Hell, she even makes those overlarge sunglasses work for her.  Granted, I would have preferred they named her April Dancer, but that might have tipped the movie’s hand as to what her role was in the
"Why yes, I know how to rock these Carnaby Street fashion..."
plot.

4) This is another film that suffers from a lackluster set of villains.  Neither Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria or her husband make much of an impression, and their motivation could use some work.  Even their main henchman is ruined by the way he blabs it up so readily when the tables are turned on him.

5) I wonder if we really needed an origin story for the two leads.  One being a thief and the other having anger issues doesn’t really contribute anything to what is, at its core, a very simple high concept.  We don’t need that level of depth in this context.

6) Boy, Henry Cavill is...earnest in his portrayal of Napoleon Solo.  It’s the kind of performance where I don’t know if he’s being serious or taking the piss out of the spy genre.  Considering that Armie Hammer plays his role straight, it sets up a weird vibe between them.
"No, really...we ARE so villains!"

7) While I think Ritchie’s urge to do a chase scene on three different planes of location was intriguing, I don’t think it quite works.  The fact is, even with the shots showing where the planes were in relation to each other, I found it quite hard to follow.

8) There are a couple of interesting sequences which use two focuses, both for comic effect.  And both seem to benefit from Cavill’s comic timing.

9) Even though an argument could be made that he’s underplaying it, it does seem that Hugh Grant is having fun playing Waverly...and I like how the movie foreshadows his appearance a couple of times before he makes his full debut.

10) While it was nice to see the distinctive UNCLE guns in one sequence, it would have been nice to get a clear shot of them (no pun intended).

Overall...Yes, it’s flawed, but it’s also great eye candy and further proof that Guy Ritchie knows his period pieces.