Monday, April 24, 2017

Movie Review: "The Void" (2017)

Director: Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

When a small town police officer finds a man crawling on the side of the road, he rushes him to a hospital. Once there, strange things begin happening, including possessed killers, a strange creature, and a cult trapping everyone inside the medical facility.

"The Void" is written and directed by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski, who previously worked together on the film "Father's Day" from the masters of modern exploitation cinema Troma Entertainment. This film, however, is a step in a far more serious direction. It stars Aaron Poole, who is the actor you hire when you want to hire someone like Aaron Paul, but can't afford his name brand paycheck.
Were we lying?????
All kidding aside, Poole does a fine job playing the protagonist, police officer Daniel Carter, who witnesses a strange occurrence on the side of the road, prompting him to bring a man to the hospital in the middle of the night. Joining him are Kenneth Walsh as Dr. Richard Powell, a surgeon at this facility; Daniel Fathers as The Father; Kathleen Munroe as Allison, Daniel's ex-wife; Elle Wong as medical student Kim; Mik Byskov as The Son; and Art Hindle, who 80's horror fans may remember from the film "The Brood." Many of these characters become trapped in said hospital by a weird cult dressed in a head to toe garb with a single black triangle on each face covering. These characters also have their lives threatened by a creature of an unknown origin

This is a movie very much inspired by horror flicks from the 1980's in terms of its look and feel. There are creature here with designs that feel heavily influenced by John Carpenter's "The Thing." We absolutely love that "The Void" uses practical effects to create the monster(s) and other gore elements such as the blood splats and oozing puss, which feel very authentic and look simultaneously cool and gross as hell. It always feels more convincing when actors get to interact with an actual object as opposed to CGI'ed special effects on a green screen fixed in post production. There are many chilling instances with enough tension and suspense to make the audience stare at the screen creeped out and grossed out by what's going on, possibly to the point of being vomit-inducing.

Though the special effects aspects are tremendous, where "The Void" starts to suffer is in its story. There is a lot going on all at once, and unfortunately, the narrative isn't always clean. Much is left ambiguous and open for interpretation and debate, which is fine up to a point. If writers and directors leave a solid blueprint to follow, everything should be fine. However, the plot feels like it hardly made it past the general concept stage. There are a lot neat tricks and cool stuff in "The Void," but it is obviously those behind the scenes paid more attention to making sure it looked the way they wanted it rather than producing a coherent story.

In the end, the disgusting visuals and expertly crafted, creepy make-up effects may be enough for many horror fans, and if they are, "The Void" is the movie for you. If you want a really gripping story with well developed characters, you may want to look elsewhere. Still, this is not a bad film in the slightest and we enjoyed it for what it is.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 74%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Movie Review #599: "Born in China" (2017)

Director: Chuan Lu
Rating: G
Running Time: 1 hour, 16 minutes
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A look at the births, deaths, rebirths, and family units in the animals of China.

"Born in China" is directed by Chuan Lu and is the latest film in the DisneyNature documentary series. Other titles from the company include "Monkey Kingdom," "Bears," and of course, their original venture "Earth." This particular installment, as one would gather from the title, focuses exclusively on the animals of China, mainly the golden snub-nose monkeys, in particular one named Tao Tao, Dawa the snow leopard and her two cubs, a heard of chiru antelope, at last but not least, a giant panda named Ya Ya and her cub Mei Mei.

Being a nature documentary, there is a vast amount of gorgeous, impeccable footage of the many Chinese landscapes where each animal resides, photographed and videoed from spring through winter and back to spring again the next season. In addition, there are extraordinarily beautiful shots of the aforementioned animals and the surrounding critters they encounter as their friends and foes. To go along with this majestic view of the natural world is tenderhearted narration from John Krasinski. This narration assigns some anthropomorphic qualities to each of the animals, as well as a bit of an inner monologue, kind of like what we do with our dogs on a daily basis. One of the biggest downfalls of this type of narration is that it's not very informative. Most nature documentaries serve to provide facts about the situations and beings shown on screen. "Born in China," however, is much more interested in creating a narrative around the family dynamics of each species to keep every potential age group entertained at the cinema from start to finish. Krasinski has a good vocal cadence, but this particular documentary is clearly geared more towards the kids in the crowd than the adults.

Of course, we can't help but squeeee! at all of the baby animals shown being born and as they learn their way around each of their respective environments in different seasons. How can you not find pure joy in a little baby panda rolling down a hill covered in leaves? If you don't take pleasure in this, you're probably a heartless bastard, sorry about it. We learn a little bit about each familial herds, their habits, and the constructed story Disney has set in place for these creatures. We see monkeys flip about, chiru antelope bound around on their new found legs and become reunited with one another after several seasons away, and watch as snow leopards try to pounce their prey.

It's really fun to watch these types of films, but they are getting really, really geared towards kids the longer they go on. Still, one cannot deny the incredible visual spectacle each of these DisneyNature documentaries beholds as they get better looking with each passing film. If you have been a fan of these documentaries in the past, chances are, you will enjoy "Born in China" as well.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 81%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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Movie Review #598: "Free Fire" (2017)

Movie"Free Fire"
Director: Ben Wheatley
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
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Two groups come together for a gun deal when suddenly, it goes horribly wrong and all hell breaks loose.

"Free Fire" is directed by Ben Wheatley, who also wrote the screenplay along with Amy Jump. The two have worked together in the past on films like "High-Rise" and "Kill List." This action crime comedy boasts an ensemble cast, including Academy Award winner Queen Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian (pronounced Killian) Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, and Enzo Cilenti. These actors make up two different groups, one of which is an Irish gang/possible IRA/IRA sympathizers who are buying assault rifles from a South African illegal arms dealer named Vernon, played by Copely. After a personal disagreement between one member from each group, things quickly go south during the deal and free fire ensues swiftly and often.

There isn't a whole lot of depth to "Free Fire." Wheatley and Jump don't spend a lot of time developing characters and giving back stories to the situation other than surface level necessities. There is no "this person has a family at home," "this person has a sick mother," "these are our heroes, these are the villains." We get none of that here. We believe this movie doesn't call for or need that kind of in-depth development. Wheatley doesn't want you to get connected to these characters or to be sad when a specific one dies. It's simply group A wants to buy guns, group B wants to sell guns, a personal matter comes up between two lesser members of each crew, and they all start shooting each other for a literal hour. This is the one critique about the movie we agree with. It really consists of the same thing from start to finish without a lot of variety.

This is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek action comedy that's not meant to be taken seriously. It is loaded with quips and funny banter, f-bombs abound, and lots, and we mean lots, of bullets. There is a consistent mass of confusion as people are shooting every which way in the worn down warehouse where this deal is taking place. The audience doesn't realize who is shooting at who, and this is clearly intentional as many of the characters are just as confused and wind up shooting people in their own crew on accident for maximum hilarity.

The cast is fantastic and charming, which certainly helps because a less talented, less likable cast would have certainly hurt the tone and the overall feel of the movie. Sharlto Copley is the main standout in this eclectic bunch of characters with a faux-swagger on the outside but a bitchy disposition on the inside. We wish he were in everything because he almost always elevates projects with his dynamic on-screen personalities. Brie Larson doesn't get a whole lot to do, but she's great in this, as is Armie Hammer, who has redeemed himself a lot in the last few years. He plays the actually suave pretty boy with witticisms up the wazoo.

"Free Fire" basically contains a little bit of hemming and hawing before an prolonged loud, intense, balls-to-the-wall shootout full of wild and crazy characters, tons of fun, era-centric costumes, and a killer soundtrack. Even though the violence is frequent and is somewhat played for comedy, it is never over the top or cartoonish. We can honestly say we had a good time with this one. It provides a violent, darkly humorous time, and if you're on board with what it's trying to accomplish, you may enjoy it, too.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 66%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Movie Review #597: "T2 Trainspotting" (2017)

Director: Danny Boyle
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
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Upon having a health scare, Mark Renton returns to Edinburgh 20 years after stealing £16,000 from his friends.

"T2 Trainspotting" is directed by Danny Boyle and is a sequel to the 1996 film "Trainspotting." It is once again written by John Hodge, based on the Irvine Welsh books "Trainspotting" and its sequel "Porno." Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, and Robert Carlyle all return to reprise their roles as Renton, Simon (aka Sick Boy), Spud, and Begbie. New to the cast is Anjela Nedyalkova, who plays Veronika, a prostitute and Simon's sort of girlfriend and business partner.

It has been 20 years since Renton ran off with the £16,000 he stole from his friends. Some recent occurrences in his life have prompted him to return to Edinburgh for the first time since walking across the bridge that fateful day, severing ties with his home and his best mates. Upon returning home, he reconnects with Spud first, who is still struggling with his smack addiction and is in a bad place in life after losing everything. Next, he meets up with Simon, who is still extremely bitter about losing the £4,000 share Renton stole from him lo those decades ago. Renton's biggest worry is the ultra-violent, constantly enraged Begbie, who has recently escaped from prison and has been waiting 20 years to exact his ultimate revenge on Renton. 

The original "Trainspotting" wasn't a huge hit in the United States when it first came out. Over the years, however, it has become somewhat of a cult classic. It served to launch the career of director Danny Boyle, who went on to direct the Oscar winning "Slumdog Millionaire," the Oscar nominated "127 Hours," and the brilliant but forgotten "Steve Jobs." Returning to his roots with this sequel shows Boyle hasn't lost a beat when it comes to his signature striking visuals and engaging storytelling. Some may ask why this sequel was made in the first place, but Irvine Welsh obviously thought there was more to explore with these characters since he wrote a sequel to his original novel, and it would seem Boyle and Hodge felt the same way; thus, we have "T2 Trainspotting." The film has its fair share of fan service and callbacks, and some actual clips from the original make their way into parts of this continuation. Renton even gives a new version of his "Choose Life" monologue, which along with it carries a critique of our modern social media-driven world and the madness it causes. We personally don't mind that this follow-up has mirrored elements of the first film worked into it, though we can understand why many critics and viewers may be unhappy with how much it feels like a rehash. Along with these remembrances is a strong narrative surrounding Begbie's desire for revenge as he has been waiting to get his hands on Renton for 20 years, even though he wound up in jail.

To us, the movie feels like a much needed coda in a story we loved despite its toxicity. It is still very much a character-driven story about friends reconnecting. They must work on getting over the past and wrongs they may have done while embracing the future, even if there's only a sliver of a future left for them. When the guys find themselves together, they do nothing but talk about these days that have become nostalgic to them. Their history is one that may be better off forgotten, but they seem to revel and relish in it, searching for the highs and lows they shared as young, dumb wankers who lived a fast, hard life. Gentrification has come to Edinburgh since we last saw these characters, and it seems everything has changed, except for them and their little neighborhood. Everyone is stuck, except for Renton, who by coming home, may very well fall back into his old habits.

Not many long oft sequels do well in terms of revisiting the past, but these characters and their continuing (mis)adventures remain enthralling, especially since the past never really left them. "T2 Trainspotting" may rely a little too heavily on nostalgia, but we still really enjoyed seeing these crazy but beloved characters one more time, especially when aided by director Danny Boyle's impeccable frenetic and ever-changing visuals and acute knack for storytelling.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Movie Review #596: "Colossal" (2017)

Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
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Gloria has lost control of her life and has returned to her hometown to get it back in order. This coincides with a mysterious monster that appears in Seoul, South Korea and destroys part of the city. Gloria soon discovers that she and the monster have a mysterious connection, and now, she must solve that problem as well.

"Colossal" is written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, who is probably best known for his 2007 horror film "Timecrimes." It stars Anne Hathaway as Gloria, a woman who embraces the party lifestyle and abuses alcohol constantly, which gets her in trouble with her boyfriend Tim, played by Dan Stevens. Eventually, because of her binging, Tim kicks her out of his apartment. Out of options, Gloria returns to her hometown and gets a job waiting tables at a bar owned by her  childhood friend named Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis. Just as she returns to her hometown, a giant monster appears from literally out of nowhere in Seoul, South Korea, destroying parts of the city in its wake. Eventually, Gloria comes to realize she and the monster are connected, which causes more strife, unintended consequences, and chaos in her already royally screwed up life. 

This is a darkly comedic sci-fi drama that uses a giant kaiju monster as a metaphor for some deep real life situations. When the film starts off, its tone is almost comedic as it looks to set up a rom-com scenario with a Godzilla-esque twist. Surprisingly, the film takes an extremely dark turn about midway through its run time that completely alters the audience's perspective on many things and threw us for a loop. The tone of the story completely changes as it starts to explore intense situations we hadn't anticipated from a movie featuring a city-destroying monster. This shift may be off-putting to some, but we found it quite gripping and manages to keep the audience guessing as to where exactly it's heading. It could have gone really hokey really quickly, but luckily, Nacho Vigalondo never wanes in his vision. In addition, the acting is quite good here. Others may certainly disagree, but we think Anne Hathaway is fantastic as Gloria and can certainly sell the "life in shambles" angle. Her part requires her to be multiple things throughout the course of the plot, from a foggy binge drinker to a badass protector. Gloria has to seek redemption in more ways than one, and we think Hathaway truly fits the bill. Jason Sudeikis has an excellent screen presence as usual. He is a charismatic man and is even quite likable at times, but also has many layers to this role as he maybe harboring ulterior motives. Their chemistry is really something, and that's all we'll say for fear of spoilers. Finally, the visual effects are striking and excellent for a movie with a $15 million budget.

If we had to critique one thing, it's that not every aspect of "Colossal" is completely wrapped up tightly. Things are brought up and eluded too that never get explained or wrapped up in a neat manner. However, we enjoyed the concept and overall theme so much that it doesn't matter to us whether every little detail had a conclusion or not. 

"Colossal" is not playing in a ton of theaters, but if you can find this charming, bizarre, deceptively immersive film, it is definitely worth a watch. Though not entirely without faults, it's innovative, funny, smart, and wicked enough to illicit a viewing.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Movie Review: "The Discovery" (2017)

Director: Charlie McDowell
Year: 2017
Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

A scientist named Thomas (Robert Redford) discovers definitive proof of the existence of an afterlife that triggers a massive uptick in the world suicide rate. His neurosurgeon son Will (Jason Segel) struggles with this phenomenon as he learns his father is continuing his studies into the afterlife and of what that afterlife consists.

"The Discovery" is directed by Charlie McDowell, who also wrote the film along with Justin Lader. It stars Robert Redford as Thomas, a scientist who finds proof of the existence of an afterlife. He hasn't discovered where the afterlife is or what it consists of, just that there is one. This discovery has triggered a massive upswing in the suicide rate across the globe. Many years pass, and Thomas has disappeared from the public eye, retreating to a compound where he maintains his studies and continues his research. Now, his estranged son Will, played by Jason Segel, reunites with him and his brother Toby, played by Jesse Plemons, and discovers their father is researching what the afterlife actually is along with a group of assistants that seem more like a Scientology type of cult than a research team.

This is a science fiction drama mystery that asks, what would happen if science could answer beyond a shadow of a doubt an existential question that philosophers have debated for centuries? What if the unknowable could be knowable? How would the world react? Apparently, Lader and McDowell have a fairly bleak idea of how people would react in real life. "The Discovery" offers an easy answer to the question of what happens when you die: your consciousness continues to live. Well, where does it continue to live? That hasn't yet been answered, thus the need for more research on Thomas' part. One possibility is eternal paradise. Another possibility is that your mind/soul/spirit/being/essence goes to a place where Michael Flatley step-dances on your balls while Rebecca Black's "Friday" plays on repeat for an eternity, but that doesn't stop people from offing themselves to find out the true answer. While the movie does present the aforementioned questions in a way that will be fun to debate and hypothesize about, those post-movie thoughts arguably be far more interesting and entertaining than the film as a whole.

The best part about this movie is its acting. Jason Segel, Robert Redford, Rooney Mara, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough all put on great performances, and the interactions between these characters ranges from compelling to ulterior, mysterious to deja vu-ish. Unfortunately, the entire thing feels like a mish-mash of sci-fi and drama with a heavier emphasis on the drama. The cerebral, philosophical, existential 'faith versus science' questions get lost in the fray in favor of a strong focus on a budding romance between Segel's Will and a woman he saved from suicide named Isla, played by Mara. This is the least gripping part of the movie for both BigJ and I. The film feels a bit pretentious, like a Philosophy 102 class on steroids, and is very reminiscent of "Flatliners" with bits of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" thrown in for good measure. Apart from some riveting visuals and questions that will make you think, this is a rather pedestrian affair that had the potential to be something much more grand than what was produced. The pacing really drags at times, and the entire film feels a little too long. It should also be mentioned that I called the ending in the first five minutes, not to brag, of course, but to show that it's actually not that much of a "thinker." It sort of ruins the originality of its main plot by being so similar to another popular film (which we won't mention here to avoid spoilers). Still, "The Discovery" is worth checking out for the premise, acting, and afterword questions alone.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 44%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Movie Review: "The Most Hated Woman in America" (2017)

Director: Tommy O'Haver
Year: 2017
Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

The story of Atheist rights activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair and the events which led to the tragic end of her life. 

"The Most Hated Woman in America" is written and directed by Tommy O'Haver, who is known for directing such films as "Get Over It" and "Ella Enchanted." It stars Melissa Leo as Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the founder of the group American Atheist. She is the titular "Most Hated Woman in America" due to her efforts in fighting for Atheist rights and to keep prayer out public schools, among many other things that pissed off the religious right in the 1960's. Joining Leo in this biopic are Brandon Mychal Smith, Josh Lucas, Michael Chernus, Juno Temple, Adam Scott, Rory Cochrane, Vincent Kartheiser, and Alex Frost.

The purpose of this film is to glance back on Madalyn's life and examine her tragic death. We personally knew very little about this movie going into it, and we knew even less about its protagonist. We learn quickly she was an outspoken nonbeliever with an abrasive personality and a penchant for speaking her mind, often isolating not just her biggest opponents, but people on her own side as well. Melissa Leo is pretty much aces in everything she acts in, and this picture is no exception. With a better script and story to guide her and the entire project in someone else's hands, this role could have garnered her Oscar attention.

"The Most Hated Woman in America" could have been a gripping and intriguing film about the life of a controversial figure who drew the ire of the faithful from all across the country. It could have focused on the hypocrisy of those who called themselves Christians, many of whom threatened violence against this woman for exercising and fighting for the proper implementation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Though it does briefly show such things, the primary focus is on O'Hair's life as a mother and how she juggled being a single parent with her activism, her kidnapping, and the outcome of that dramatic situation with only mere flashbacks of her biggest court battles. O'Hair had a very storied career, most of which is glossed over with a more bullet point style of approach in order to get to the gruesome and grizzly end of her life.

The final product of "The Most Hated Woman in America" winds up feeling more like a better-than-average Lifetime drama, which we guess is better than being a sub-par theatrical biopic. Either description feels just as accurate. For what it is, we really only learned a little something about a woman we already knew nothing about. We feel as if director and writer Tommy O'Haver didn't quite know what to do with such a deep and passionate subject matter, and instead of opting for the complicated, odd, unique life story of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, took the safe and easy route, turning this into a crime thriller with very little oomph. We wish we could say we learned more about O'Hair and all she did for the movement, especially considering movies about Atheists don't get made very frequently. With a little retooling and a lot of artistic changes, this could have been something special when it's really just average at best.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 50%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?