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Jupiter Ascending is the latest sci-fi feature offering from the Wachowski siblings (creators of The Matrix). A self-indulgent mess, this $176M disaster (yep, you read that amont right) tanked badly and for good reasons…
Let’s start with the film’s high points first, visually it’s beautiful. The production design is truly impressive in scope and vision and explains largely why the project’s budget was so outrageously high. The space environments they’ve created along with the ships, costumes and sets have a beautiful, modern extravagance that underpins the problems with this movie. It feels self indulgent, which is part of the point I’m sure given the nature of some of the characters but it also permeates throughout the storyline and some of the performances as well as the direction.
The story is about the 20-30-something-ish Jupiter, who finds herself working with her family as they struggle to make ends meet by cleaning people’s houses and living a very hum-drum life. In the meantime, there are humans living out in the vastness of space that are secretly controlling our fates through their “ownership” of our planets. These humans look down on us regular humans as a sort of livestock to fulfill their desire for immortality. Through the course of the story, it’s discovered that Jupiter is the reincarnation of one these elite humans and that she’s a threat to those in power. Because of who she is, the elites target her for assassination and the plot unfolds.
The story seems to play a secondary priority to the effects. The main plot is very hacky and formulaic, nothing innovative with the main character having things mostly happen to her without much motivated action on her part. She just sort of wanders from one incident to the other controlled by outside forces kind of pushing her along, it makes it hard to sympathize or identify with her. The dialog is by the numbers and feels phoned in most of the time by the talent with a few exceptions here and there. Even Sean Bean seemed like he was just going along for the ride.
And that’s another problem, the performances of the actors seem forced across the board. Channing Tatum plays the part of Caine Wise who is Jupiter’s protector. One of my issues with him was the design of his character. I’m not sure what race he’s supposed to be but he looks like the result of a mating between an elf and a wolf so it’s hard to take him seriously. His performance seemed a bit strained too as did Mila Kunis’ portrayal of the main character. I wonder if they could tell the project was doomed from the start. The only actor really pouring it on was Eddie Redmayne as the main baddie Balem Abrasax. He comes off obnoxiously pretentious, to the point of barely being able to watch him on screen which effected the realism of his portrayal for me. His cartoony overacting turned out to be a distraction.
The Wachowskis wrote and directed and maybe need to go back to the basics of putting a good story first along with strong performances and worry about the effects after that.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
The Trip revolves around Steve Coogan (as himself) who is asked by a magazine to do a restaurant tour around the country and help develop a story around the experience. Coogan plans to bring his girlfriend right about the time she decides it’s time for them to take a “break” so he enlists the help of his friend Rob. Unfortunately for Steve, Rob tends to drive Steve nuts after awhile which of course sets the duo up for an interesting road trip…
Much of the film is based around the ongoing conversation that the 2 companions have while they’re traveling along the route of their journey. The humor is very dry and witty so if you’re looking for slapstick silliness or crude dick jokes, you’ll be disappointed. Given the nature of the humor, there were times I laughed out loud and other moments where I was bored out of my mind. The story seems to be told somewhat in an improv-style of delivery while still containing scripted plot-points. Overall I found the story interesting but at times very self indulgent as well. Rob’s friend Steve is also a well-known talent and is known for his impressions. Some of the impression riffing the actors do is a blast, especially their dialog acting like Michael Caine, Billy Connelly and Sean Connery. The problem is, the gag wears thin after awhile and starts to get annoying instead of entertaining.
That’s my primary complaint about the film – there are numerous elements that are kind of beaten into the ground through repetition which makes them lose their charm from when they’re first introduced. Coogan’s womanizing being one of those elements along with the actors constantly riffing.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the movie is the scenery. They have a lot of great exterior shots of the landscapes and the towns they travel through along with footage of the amazing food they’re evaluating for their story. Anthony Bourdain would’ve fit right in here given the cuisine and choice of restaurants they visited.
The film ends very abruptly and in a strange way for Coogan as he’s struggling with his love life and family life. I have to admit, I thought the ending was a little sudden and not entirely satisfying. It just felt like something was missing and that they’re needed to be more resolution. Maybe that’s the point though…
If you dig British humor and enjoy good scenery, check out The Trip on Netflix.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Hollyweird is just cranking out the hero-on-hero violence with the latest superhero fight fest in the form of X-Men: Apocalypse. Incidentally this film ranks third on my list of favorite hero fight movies with Civil War #1, Apocalypse #2, and BvS #4 (I took it down to 4 because it didn’t deserve a number 3).
I’m not sure why this film is being bashed so harshly but I’ll give you my side of it. Ok, it’s not the best film in the series to be sure, but it’s also not nearly as bad as the worst in the series. The worst in the series is X-Men III, hands down, no doubt about it, X-Men III is the worst X-Men movie, ever. Definitely, the third film is the most terrible, awful, X-Men film ever made. Sorry, I had to get that out of my system as I just hate Brett Ratner’s work soooooo much.
Back to X-Men: Apocalypse… It is missing something that the other standout films have but it’s hard to put your finger on it. I think some of it is the passion and heart the other films have as one of the ingredients lacking. There’s also a number of new players in the lineup that are feeling their way into the characters as well as working with the veterans of the group so there’s a bit of an awkward chemistry between them.
I also felt when I was watching it that it was big for the sake of being big right away. There wasn’t much of a build up so the more pivotal moments lost some of their punch due to the epic nature of the film in general. Though, there are still stand out moments and nods to the comic at times too. The way Apocalypse grows in size during his confrontation with Xavier is a good example of something taken from the books as is the use of the sentinels in the Danger Room.
The premise isn’t bad and works as a reasonable vehicle although it did feel formulaic at times. The insertion of Wolverine seemed more as a necessity just to make sure he was included in the lineup rather than a need for his character as they redefine the Weapon X storyline again to shoehorn him into the movie. It felt the same with the inclusion of Mystique/Raven/Jennifer Lawrence. Her performance is especially lackluster and her actual presence doesn’t really add up to much with the exception of some emotional moments that she wasn’t great at delivering. Unfortunately I felt like Lawrence kind of phoned in this one and that she was written in to get her name on the poster.
There are some good performances in here to be sure. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are strong in their roles as usual as was Nicholas Hoult as Beast. Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert was enjoyable to watch and Evan Peters in the role of Quicksilver is a blast. However, Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark from GoT) was not so great as Jean Grey as her performance was very one-note and unemotional. There were a lot of missed opportunities with her character especially when she emerges as The Phoenix which could’ve been much more intense. Shame on her and director Bryan Singer for not pushing harder, that was disappointing. Oscar Issac as Apocalypse could’ve been much more impactful but the cartoony makeup of his character got in the way of his performance at times. The rest of the lineup is ok, but that’s really kind of it, no big standouts.
It’s hard to say for sure, but if I had the choice of seeing the film in the theater for the first time knowing what I know about it, I’d probably go see it but only if I was really bored. Oh, and don’t forget like the dumb asses I see leaving the theater, if you leave before the END of the credits, you’re going to miss the final scene!
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Ok, so I would guess you heard by now that the re-boot here of Marvel’s longest-running superhero team sucks. I don’t like to make up my mind until I see a film for myself, but I’ll confirm too that the film is pretty bad. As for why, well…
Starting with the script, there are some interesting ideas here but there’s a lot of backstory that isn’t necessary, especially in the beginning to establish the friendship between Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. And that’s part of the problem, there a numerous points that are kind of unnecessary and don’t really move things forward which really slows the pace of the film making it pretty boring throughout much of it. Then there’s the tone of the film, which is dark. Ever since Chris Nolan rebooted Batman with a darker tone, everyone thinks that dark is the way to go. Well, that worked for Batman because he’s a dark dude but that doesn’t work for all comic characters (cough, cough, Superman, cough, Zach Synder, cough, cough). And the dark tone doesn’t work here either. If you read the Fantastic Four comics as I did, you know there was some humor with them and it never creeped into too ominous of a theme overall. They were always one of the more lighter superhero teams that were fun but not overly serious or depressing. Here, the tone is not fun, just dark and I’m afraid that approach just fails here.
Josh Trank directed and I have to say I lost some respect for him when he came out and said how disappointed he was with the film and blamed the studio primarily for it. As a director myself, I understand his complaints but ultimately, he’s still the director and holds some responsibility here himself. I can’t believe he was blind to the problems of the film from the get-go so I’m sorry but I feel he’s equally accountable for the shortcomings of this movie. Take the blame here Trank, it’s your film too.
The actors are lackluster at best. There are no memorable moments here with everyone seeming kind of muted in terms of their performances. I know that Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan are capable of much more than I what I saw them deliver, it’s a shame, it feels like they were told to hold back when they should’ve had more opportunity to run with the ball. Miles Teller who plays Reed is kind of blasé on camera as well. I don’t know if it’s him or the way he was directed but he’s very milquetoast as far as his portrayal of the lead. Jamie Bell is ok as Ben Grimm/The Thing but he’s just ok. Even the Dr. Doom role came off boring played by Toby Kebbell. He tries to come off in a menacing way but he just seems quiet, not threatening. Overall, the whole thing performance wise feels like most of them were just phoning it in for the paycheck.
Ugh. Dont’ bother. If you really want to see a Fantastic Four film, go back to the original from 2005 with Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd, which was at least a decent film and fun to watch. This one is neither…
reviewed by Sean McKnight
This is the film that Batman v. Superman should have been. The contrast in terms of quality and organization is astounding by comparison when looking at the Marvel Universe, which is extremely well thought out and organized, against the discordant mess that is DC’s world. Captain America: Civil War is the film to see if you want to see a serious hero fight with a highly entertaining story…
The writing is fantastic. There’s political intrigue, some great character development and arcs, as well as other topical subjects like freedom and the cost of it. The main basis for the conflict between the heroes is an accord they’re asked to sign where they will need to answer to a special UN council that will decide if they are needed or not. Unfortunately for our heroes, there’s been a bit too much collateral damage as a result of their confrontations trying to save the world from certain doom. Overall, the story is compelling and interesting to follow without being muddied up, it has some unexpected twists here and there and resolves itself in a way that is familiar but a little surprising too. I’ll let the story speak for itself but suffice it to say, it’s a great script and is expertly executed.
Action-wise the film is going to grab your attention right away with The Avengers on a mission that gets them in trouble when things go awry with one of Cap’s arch enemies, Crossbones. The film is packed with action but not constantly and not in a gratuitous way, all the sequences moved the film forward nicely. The action sequences themselves actually SHOW you the action (cough, cough Zach Snyder and your bullshit shaky cam). The clash between Team Iron Man and Team Captain America is super entertaining! It was great to see them all tangling and seeing how they combat each other. One of my favorites is Ant Man penetrating Iron Man’s armor to dismantle him from the inside out, fun stuff! The action is peppered throughout the film that helps pace it nicely with the slower moments giving the audience a nice ebb and flow through the excitement and intrigue.
The introduction of new characters was also really nice to see. Marvel is gearing up for the next wave of heroes and of course retiring some along the way. Among the newer lineup of heroes in the film is Black Panther, Ant Man, and the introduction of the new Spider-Man! Spider-Man’s inclusion in here is a blast! Tom Holland does a great job as the webslinger and the way he’s written in here was one of the best moments of the film. He gets in on the fight too and goes up against Captain America and his brother Bucky.
Speaking of the actors, the powerhouse lineup in the film does not fail to deliver! Great performances all around with some profound emotional moments delivered by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bethany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, and Emily VanCamp. Overall an excellent cast that worked well under the direction of Anthony and Joe Russo.
Clean the bad taste out of your mouth from BvS and go check out Civil War in theaters while you still can! Don’t forget to stay the whole way to the end of the credits! And I mean, until the VERY end!!
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Chronicling the early chapters of the band, this documentary is jam packed with interviews from the members, crew, management, family and fans related to the band over it’s considerable history. Going back to 1973 and leading up to when the band exploded internationally in 1984 is the primary era focused on in this over 2 hour film.
Guitarist JJ French leads through much of the film as he was one of the founding members with Dee Snider being added later on after numerous singers before him. There was even a time when JJ tried his hand at lead vocals just prior to Dee joining the lineup. The band’s past is much more complicated than you would think if you only came to know them in the 80’s as I did. I discovered the band during their “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” days after they had already evolved through 3 or 4 other variations of themselves. That’s one of the things that’s interesting about the band, they’ve morphed from a cheesy cover band that played in bars to a hard rock band that was packing halls of 3,000 people without a record contract or radio airplay before the days of the internet.
Record companies in the states ignored them and said they were a joke because of the makeup and costumes. However, a punk label out of the UK recognized something was going on when they attended one of the band’s massive shows and saw the reaction they were getting and off the band went to London to record their debut. After many Spinal Tap moments that followed the release of their first album, the US labels finally showed up a bit late to the party to help take the band to the national stage.
There are a lot of interviews in here to fill in all the details and I have to say the film kept moving and kept my interest the whole time. Sometimes interviews can drag even through interesting material but this film was fun to watch, had a great pace and plenty of compelling moments peppered in there as well.
If you’re a fan of the band or of music documentaries in general, catch this one on Netflix.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Dracula Untold can best be described as a vampire action flick. While it has serious tones to it, the action sequences are where things occasionally slide over into cheese territory. It’s a shame too, the story has an interesting take on the mythology of the character that manages to work in a way that the original take on the story fits without the character changing in a way that seems out of their nature.
Prince Vlad (known as Vlad the Impaler) has hung up his armor and is now living peacefully with his family in his kingdom. Enter Turk warlord who demands all his kingdom’s boys (along with his own son) to which Vlad doesn’t react well. War ensues, the warlord deciding to come claim his prize. Since Vlad has no army, he has no choice but to make a deal that will allow him to protect his family and kingdom but at a terrible price.
Overall, I liked the original way that the story was told. While Vlad was a monster, the film manages to spin him in a more sympathetic light. Part of that stems from the performance of Luke Evans and the craftsmanship of the script. The film is dark and intense at times. The thing that kept this from being a great film are some of the effects and action sequences. Some of the sequences are realistic and tight, some of it’s a bit too grandiose and CG looking unfortunately.
I also had some issue here and there with some of the vampire’s powers, most notably how the bats were turned into a kind of “bat fist”, that was a bit much.
The actors are fun to watch. Evans proves himself to be strong lead while Dominic Cooper makes a formidable foe. Charles Dance as the Master Vampire was my second favorite performance of the film. The rest of the cast is tight as well and includes: Sarah Gadon, Art Parkinson, Paul Kaye, and William Houston.
The film is entertaining overall though. If you can get past some of the weak points, it’s worth a night at home with some popcorn.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Oscar winner for best adapted screenplay, The Big Short offers the explanation of the stock market / housing bubble crash that wiped out many people’s retirement accounts and forced others into foreclosing their homes. And just as you may have suspected, yep, it was greedy Wall Street pricks that were just trying to line their golden parachutes a little more at the population’s expense.
Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B is one of the forces behind the film and the production looks and feels like one of theirs. You can watch World War Z to see what I’m talking about. Regardless, it’s a quality production with a well written script and strong performances. Speaking of the script, the story in terms of the explanation of the whole mess is actually pretty well explained. This is kind of a miraculous feat as they’ve taken some pretty boring, hard-to-understand material and made it digestible for someone who knows nothing about Wall Street. They even offer different bullet point explanations to help break down details and when they do, they often have a celebrity like Anthony Bourdain help to explain the point which was entertaining to be sure.
I’ll forego the explanation of the storyline; if you were an adult in the last 10 years, I would guess you lost some money during the debacle as most did so I’m sure you can relate from your own experience. Suffice it to say, the film is based on true events and the bottom line is that we all got screwed and our government managed to arrest a total of one person in a colossal display of favoritism for an industry that only cares about the bottom line and not the people who get crushed along the way.
The actors are great, really great. The lineup is impressive and does not fail to deliver. Given the complexity of the script and the fact that most of the material involves finances and investment, it’s pretty hard to make that interesting but luckily the performances convey the concepts in a compelling way. The standouts for me were Christian Bale as the doctor who was the architect for betting against the housing market as well as the neurotic, quirky character portrayed by Steve Carell as one of the heads of Morgan Stanley. The lineup includes Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling.
If you like a challenging film with great performances involving some intellectual material instead of super heroes, you’ll want to check out why The Big Short won an Oscar.
reviewed by Sean McKnight