(Review) Transformers: The Last Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight.

The Transformers franchise has been an interesting one, with some major flops that have somehow broken records in terms of money made, especially international. Age of Extinction, the last film, made over a billion dollars and has only an 18% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (but I explain in this video why that doesn’t mean what you think it means).

Can this new entry manage to make money and please fans?

The gist.

We join Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) as he’s trying to seek out and protect Autobots, as the US government now has an anti-transformer group that is also hunting them, not distinguishing between the good and the bad (including Colonel Lennox, played by Josh Duhamel). The leader of the Autobots (Optimus Prime) has ventured into space, seeking to return to his home planet of Cybertron. He meets an ancient evil there, named Quintessa, who seeks to bring Cyberton to Earth and literally siphon all the life from it and bring Cyberton back to glory. While Optimus is gone though, Yeager must round up the Autobots and try to stop this evil scheme, while fighting off both the humans and the Decepticons. He’s assisted by some comedic relief (Jerrod Carmichael) and a young girl who has a knack for repairing Transformers (Isabela Moner). They eventually meet up with a man who knows the history of these Transformers (Anthony Hopkins) and a woman who might be the key to rescuing Earth (Laura Haddock).

What works?

Let me ease your concerns now. This movie doesn’t continue the downward momentum but actually manages to right a few wrongs from Age of Extinction. A few, anyways.

This movie works best if you go in only wanting one thing. Explosions. This movie has plenty, with some badass fight sequences, plenty of crazy Transformers to look at, and some epic moments. If you want that, and that only, you’ll have a fun time here. It’s the perfect summer blockbuster, one you can veg out and enjoy, as long as you don’t think too hard about it. This movie also has plenty of fire, there’s just fire everywhere.

The movies have gradually been adding more and more Transformers, with this one so bloated with talking robots that you forget who is who. There are tons of returning bots from other movies, as well as plenty of new allies and enemies. Some are cool, while others are painful to watch. But there’s plenty of them, so the complaint about being focused on the humans shouldn’t be a problem here. However, to add a negative here for balance, the Transformers still feel shallow and underdeveloped, even if they are a focus of the movie. I don’t remember more than a few names and many of them appear and disappear throughout the movie without any explanation, like the writers were juggling too many and just forgot about them.

The visuals in this outing are much better than I remember the last few films looking. They used to be a mess, with every fight sequence looking like a jumbled up mess of gears and you couldn’t tell what was happening. This one has some incredible fight scenes that are actually decipherable and enjoyable.

The high point of the movie is the Transformers, both the heroics of the Autobots and the terrifying antics of the Decepticons. The humans are definitely the weak link.

What doesn’t work?

While every human actor here is trying, the script that they’re given is incredibly weak. Many characters feel unnecessary, most notably a spunky young girl who is set up to somehow save the day but ultimately contributes nothing. The lead heroine of the film (Laura Haddock) is told to us via exposition that she’s incredibly smart (over and over) but she is only important because of things beyond her control, things she’s born with. She has also the same distinct “look” that Michael Bay seems to have an obsession with, like a British Megan Fox.

While the action is great, the plot that supports the action is flimsy. At most points in the movie, I was questioning why things were happening. A lot of it didn’t really make sense or maybe our heroes’ responses didn’t really make sense. A planet is coming to consume our world, yet this government agency continues to hunt this one guy (Wahlberg). You’d think their priorities would be different. It just felt needlessly complicated and somewhat cliche, considering the “world is going to end” scenario is played out to death in these movies.

I also had a problem with the humor in this movie. I laughed a few times, sure, but there were just as many moments where a joke had a laugh break after it, for the audience to react, but the audience was (mostly) silent. The humor felt amateur, unnecessary, and often a mistake. It wasn’t as painful as some of the past Transformers movies but it was still pretty bad.

There’s also a mid-credits scene that is supposed to elicit excitement about the next entry but instead is just confusing and brings up more questions that the series likely won’t (or can’t) answer.

Overall…

This movie is fine. It’s got fun action and some cool setpieces, but the human characters ultimately fall flat. The humor is hit or miss and the plot is one you don’t want to think about too hard. If you want some escapism, this movie should do the trick, though don’t expect greatness.

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Review: Cars 3

Cars 3.

Cars is probably my least favorite Pixar franchise and neither of the first two movies impressed me. Will this third installment finally win me over?

The gist.

The first two Cars movies focused on Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) who became the best of the best in the world of racing. Now, this third movie humbles Lightning a bit, introducing a whole new generation of racers, high tech and created especially to race, highlighted by the fastest of them all, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). McQueen suffers an injury and must not only recuperate but find a way to become relevant again. He is supported by a new team captain (Nathan Fillion) and a new specialized trainer (Cristela Alonzo). We also still have Mater the tow-truck (Larry the Cable Guy), though he’s in a very reduced role.

What works?

The first thing that will catch your attention is the way this movie looks. It’s sleek and gorgeous most of the time, though the anthropomorphized cars still look a little out of place in this hyper-realistic setting. The settings are varied and interesting, with the best setpiece being a demolition derby competition that looks astounding.

I also want to give kudos to what the movie tried to do. There are basically two stories here, one focused on McQueen trying to stay relevant and one focused on the trainer Cruz (Cristela) trying to make a name for herself in a world of male cars. These stories are actually interesting and deep, though the amateur script stops either of these stories from really landing.

The character of Cruz herself is probably the highlight in terms of voice talent. Cristela adds a charisma and energy that the others didn’t really deliver and I’m glad that Cruz became a central character (and probably my favorite Cars character) by the end of this film.

What doesn’t work?

Like I said above, even though the story’s intentions are great, it fails to really become anything. The dialogue is cringe-worthy and the plot itself is riddled with inconsistencies and confusing moments. “This is a kid’s movie, Adam!” you might yell at your monitor. Unfortunately, the kids in my theater weren’t loving it. The movie is slow and boring, resulting in a theater full of bored kids who started wandering around the theater looking for something to entertain them. This movie fails on both levels, which is weird considering Pixar usually manages to succeed appealing to both kids and adults.

The voice talent also feels bored. Owen Wilson’s performance as Lightning is phoned-in and even new talent like Nathan Fillion and Chris Cooper feel bored and disengaged.

The marketing also led us to believe that something tragic would happen to Lightning but the movie actually kind of shoots right past that, failing to capitalize on the premise that got people into the seats.

Overall…

Cars continues to be the worse Pixar franchise, by far. This entry fails to revitalize the franchise, giving us a boring and predictable journey that is only made bearable by a great performance by comedian Cristela Alonzo. The movie looks great, but both kids and adults will find it slow and tedious and overall not worth the price of admission.

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Review: The Mummy (2017)

The Mummy.

Now I liked the old Brenden Fraser movies but I wasn’t so in love with them that I wanted this movie to fail. This was actually one of the few reboots that I was okay with, as the trailers looked intriguing. Plus this movie has the pressure of “launching” the Dark Universe, the cinematic universe of all of the popular Universal monsters. I say “launching” in quotes because both I, Frankenstein and Dracula Untold were supposed to be launching points for that universe as well. Does this one manage to impress?

The gist.

We meet Tom Cruise as a looter who visits ancient burial sites and sells the artifacts to the black market, alongside his buddy played by Jake Johnson (who is surprisingly cowardly for being in this line of work). Due to a clue stolen from a researcher played by Annabelle Wallis, they stumble into the burial site of an ancient evil (played by Sofia Boutella). This evil is corrupting everything, include Cruise’s character who is inexplicably drawn to her. We are also joined by Russell Crowe, who leads a team of researchers and soldiers trained specifically to deal with monsters like this (and who will be the uniting factor between these “Dark Universe” films).

What works?

I was intrigued by these trailers because it looked legitimately creepy. I wasn’t disappointed, this movie veered much closer to the horror than the Fraser franchise did. If you’re afraid of rats, birds, or spiders, you’ll have a hard time here. The imagery is vivid and unique, with some major setpieces that are pretty awesome (though mostly given away in the trailers). If you see this movie, it should be because you want some cool sequences and maybe a few jump scares.

A lot of this rides on the title character, played by Sofia Boutella (who was one of the coolest things about The Kingsmen). She has enough of a backstory to understand her motivation but she really kills it (pun intended) in the current day, coming off as menacing and incredibly powerful. A lot of movies don’t do the villain justice but here… they luckily focused on the right things and the mummy herself was a highlight of the film.

This movie also sets up the “Dark Universe” is a really interesting way with tons of easter eggs for fans of these classic monster movies. I’m excited and hoping that this movie actually is the launching point, though Russell Crowe was probably the weakest part of the world-building aspect.

I also enjoyed Cruise here, who wasn’t the badass we usually see in these action movies. He’s a bumbling idiot a lot of the time. He doesn’t know how to really use a gun, he can’t fight. He is just trying to survive and it was a refreshing take.

What didn’t work?

This movie has been taking a lot of heat from critics but I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s not great, at all, but there are only a few glaring mistakes.

While Cruise and Boutella get plenty of moments to shine, the other supporting cast don’t get as much love. Like I said above, Russell Crowe is essential in setting up the larger world but what they do with his character is… odd. Forced. I won’t spoil who he plays, if you haven’t heard, but they made a few choices here that would’ve been better used later in the franchise, as they felt shoe-horned in and unnecessary.

And then we have the obligatory love interest in Annabelle Wallis and the comedic relief Jake Johnson. Both of these characters slowed the movie to a halt and did everything in their power to ruin any momentum. They weren’t given much to do, other than serve their very superficial purpose, and Wallis especially had plenty of moments that felt unearned, like a love story all of a sudden made sense in the midst of a world-ending catastrophe.

The movie’s final act also lost some momentum, as the bright and vivid setpieces gave way to a superhero-like climax in a dark cavern, where everything was dark and muted and the movie’s tone drastically shifted. Even the film’s closing moments felt like they were from a different movie.

Overall…

This isn’t great but it’s not terrible. I enjoyed myself for most of it actually, with some really cool moments and plenty of creepy sequences that had me on the edge of my seat. Sofia Boutella shines as the villain, while Cruise delivers a performance unlike anything we’ve seen from him recently. The world-building is intriguing and I’m excited for what comes next from Universal’s new cinematic universe.

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Review: Baywatch (2017)

Baywatch.

I had very little expectations for this movie. I was too young to really get into the television show. The Rock is usually awesome but a comedy like this can sink, even if Johnson does everything right.

The gist.

We join a team of lifeguards, spearheaded by Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson). He’s assisted by his number two Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach). Two new recruits are trying out for the team (Alexandra Daddario and Jon Bass). Rounding out the lifeguards is Olympic gold medalist Matt Brody (Zac Efron) who, for a reason the movie will explain, wants to be a part of this team. While saving lives, this team discovers that a dangerous new drug has taken over the beach and it’s being run by an businesswoman with ill intent for the area (Priyanka Chopra).

What works?

Let me prepare you for what’s about to happen. This movie isn’t great, so this section is going to be brief. You’ll be disappointed as you get to the negative section and you’ll feel disheartened.

But here’s the thing… This movie is exactly what you’d expect and I don’t know if anyone was expecting greatness. It’s silly and exaggerated, it knows exactly what kind of movie it wants to be. There are slow motion running shots, slow motion action sequences, and plenty of rude and crude jokes. Some of you want just that, but that doesn’t make this a good movie, it means that you’re okay with this being an eh movie. And most of you are.

Dwayne Johnson does what he can and he’s not to blame for this movie’s mediocrity but his charisma alone can’t save it. Efron is unlikeable for the entirety of the film, so he’s also lacking the charm that made movies like Neighbors solid. The movie fails in many ways that are much more foundational.

What doesn’t work?

Let’s start with the fact that this is a comedy. If it was hilarious, it would be seen as a success, that’s usually all it takes. However, it’s not hilarious. I chuckled, a lot in fact. I even laughed loud at a few moments. Those moments were drastically overshadowed by the huge gaps between laughter, where the movie became serious and wanted to focus on this dangerous drug dealer that we had in Priyanka Chopra. The movie’s tone is inconsistent and fails to do either tone well. It’s not funny enough to be memorable but the serious portions are laughably bad as well.

I don’t put the blame solely on Chopra as our villain but this was a mistake in casting. She lacked the threat and danger, so you never felt like there was anything at stake. On the page, too much time and effort was spent trying to build up her character, which didn’t result in anything worthwhile, and in fact slowed the movie to a halt in most instances. The plot is also incredibly predictable, from the first few moments as you meet all the players.

Let’s talk about the action here, because there are a few “big” action sequences but all of them lack punch. The computer effects and green-screen are horribly obvious and these scenes feel inconsequential, as opposed to leaving you on the edge of your seat. There’s a sequence with a boat on fire that is especially horrid in terms of effects.

I also had a big problem with the music here. In the opening moments, while the credits were flashing by, we had four of five different songs play. I’m not sure if the problem is the quantity of songs or the way they were transitioned, which brought this to your attention in a jarring way. This problem reminded me of Suicide Squad, where it felt like the movie was more like a music video than an actual film.

In terms of writing, it’s all very cliche. The jokes are gross and over the top but all strangely familiar, plucked from other R-rated movies like this. The jokes are improvised but these actors aren’t strong improvisers. There are many groan-worthy moments and it’s surprising that those are the moments they kept in the film.

Overall…

Baywatch is exactly what you expect. The Rock being snappy, Efron with his shirt off, and plenty of slow motion running scenes. The jokes don’t always land, the action sequences don’t look great or have any impact, and the whole thing overall feels very unoriginal. It’s surprisingly slow, focusing on a villain that you won’t care about, which means you’ll be checking your watch plenty.

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(Review) Alien: Covenant

convenant headeradam review

Alien: Covenant.

The Alien franchise is a tumultuous one. While Alien and Aliens are considered classics, Alien3 and Alien Resurrection are not as positively remembered. And then we have Prometheus, which wasn’t even marketed as part of the franchise but was a sneaky prequel, which brought up more questions than it provided answers. So now we have Alien: Covenant, which is a prequel to Alien but a sequel to Prometheus, which is required  viewing for this outing.

The gist.

We pick up about ten years after the events of Prometheus, where a ship called the Covenant is hurtling through space full of 2,000 colonists, aimed for a habitable planet. The android Walter (Michael Fassbender) wakes up the crew as the ship is hit with an explosive wave, jeopardizing their mission. We have a hesitant captain (Billy Crudup), whose second in command (Katherine Waterston) questions his decisions, most notably the decision to explore a new planet that might be habitable. This new planet is of course horrible, introducing us to the deadly aliens that this franchise is known for.

We also have Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, and more among the expendable cast. It is directed by Ridley Scott.

What works?

This movie smartly veers closer to Alien than Prometheus did, which didn’t really even feel like a prequel to me. This is much closer in tone to the originals, echoing many similar moments of suspense. The xenomorph alien that you know is present here, though we also get other variations of the alien. The movie is exciting and action-packed, though also incredibly gory, which should please the diehard fans. It pulls no punches.

The standout in the cast is Michael Fassbender, who plays the new android Walter, as well as reprising his role as David from Prometheus. His performance here is great, nuanced and complicated, though this character is also the root of this movie’s story problems, so it’s a double-edged sword. Danny McBride also delivers a surprisingly poignant performance as well.

Lastly, the movie is gorgeous. The sets are fantastic, the landscapes surreal, and the cinematography is incredible. If nothing else, this is a stunning movie to look at.

covenant 1

What doesn’t work?

This franchise has dug itself a hole in terms of its mythology and Ridley Scott seems driven to dive further into it. I’ve seen every movie and this film was still convoluted and complicated, for seemingly no reason. In the first few films, the premise seemed simple enough. There’s a Queen who lays eggs and these eggs result in face-huggers, who latch onto a human and create a xenomorph. With Prometheus and now Covenant, this isn’t so simple anymore. You almost need a diagram to figure out why certain things are happening, it’s frustratingly complicated. This also means that not only do you need to see Prometheus first but you probably should rewatch it immediately before this movie.

The human characters in the movie are incredibly superficial. Most of them never get a name, which means you know they’re all going to die in horrible painful ways. The xenomorph, when it does arrive, has some killer moments but the reliance on computer effects is frustrating, considering how fantastic the practical effects looked in the older movies.

The biggest problem that I had with this movie… is that it all felt familiar, yet it’s been done better. The climax of the film mostly resembles the original Alien film, but it doesn’t even come close. There are sequences that resemble many moments we’ve already had, yet they all feel like carbon copies. This movie’s only uniqueness lies in David and Walter and the bigger questions about life and creation and the fate of humankind, but this storyline is woven into this complicated mythology Scott is trying to build, so it’s still frustrating.

covenant 2

Overall…

This movie is really only for a small group of people: If you loved all the Alien movies and thought Prometheus was a step in the right direction. It’s beautiful to watch and Fassbender’s performance is fantastic, but the movie ultimately gets tripped up on its own mythology. It all feels familiar, there’s very little new or unique about this film. If you don’t mind the confusion but just want some gory kills, this movie might do the trick for you.

Rating 3 star

 

 

 

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(Review) King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

No one was really asking for a new King Arthur movie but here we are. I don’t think anyone really knew this movie was coming out because everyone I talked to about this movie said “I don’t know what that is.” So that’s not a good sign.

The gist.

We’re in medieval England in a time when magic was common, until one mage named Mordred seeks power and attacks the king (Eric Bana). The king sends his only son away, while his brother (Jude Law) usurps the throne. Years later, the boy Arthur has grown up (Charlie Hunnam) and he is on a mission to retrieve the sword Excalibur and reclaim the throne, reluctantly. He is assisted by a crew including a mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), an archer (Aidan Gillen), and a warrior (Djimon Hounsou). It is directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes).

What works?

I’ll get to the question “Is it good?” later but for now I can definitely say that it’s incredibly cool. From start to finish, this movie is cool. It opens with an incredible fight sequence, like something from Lord of the Rings. The creature design is impressive, with some great visual effects to bring these creatures to life. The elephants that feature in the opening scene are jaw-dropping. There are plenty of other creatures, both disturbing and beautiful, that show up throughout the movie but I’d hate to spoil it.

Guy Ritchie knows what people want from this movie and he delivers plenty of it. Adding to the cool factor is his unique style involving speed manipulation, almost like a spiritual successor to Zack Snyder’s work in 300. There are some montage sequences that are incredible, showing the passage of time, that he smartly puts together in a way that is functional and also captivating.

Layered on top of that is the music, strings and horns but remixed to a degree that it’s like a whole new genre of music. There are tons of cool moments here, if that’s what you want.

Lastly, the locations are beautiful. Sweeping shots of countrysides and mountain ranges and raging rivers, it’s all perfect.

What doesn’t work?

You’ll notice there’s a few things strangely absent from the above section. The cast is most notably missing. It’s really a B-list outing, with Jude Law really serving as the only heavy hitter and he delivers a performance here that is completely one-dimensional. You never quite know why his character is doing anything.

I also don’t understand the push to make Charlie Hunnam a star. I watched Sons of Anarchy and he was frankly one of the worst things about that show. He was also one of the worst things in Pacific Rim. He’s the new Sam Worthington (Avatar), being pushed into the spotlight without anyone really asking for him to be. His performance here is fine but nothing special. He’s so angsty and resistant to the entire plot that it’s almost like he’s working against the film itself. This role would’ve been better suited for a more charming and aloof action star who could really enjoy the campy fight sequences and witty banter.

And while there are moments of greatness, there are just as many moments of painful amateur decisions. The opening credits are horrible, like someone’s high school project. The visual effects, while usually great, aren’t as solid in the final act of the movie, with a new type of action scene that is subpar compared to everything else we’ve seen.

Overall…

King Arthur is cool, undoubtedly. Monsters and wizards and witty one-liners. It’s not necessarily good, though, with forgettable performances and some bad decisions in regards to visual effects (and when to use/not use them). I think most of you will enjoy this movie but you’ll forget about it almost immediately after you leave the theater.

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Review: Don’t Think Twice

dont think twice header.jpgadam review

Don’t Think Twice.

I’m a huge fan of the comedian Mike Birbiglia, who has a few incredible standup comedy specials available on Netflix. He wrote and directed this film, packed with outstanding comedic talent. So when I saw it finally arrive on Netflix (and Amazon Prime), I definitely wanted to check it out.

The gist.

We meet an improv comedy group in New York, struggling to make ends meet. This is truly an ensemble piece, with each member of the cast getting depth and nuance. Birbiglia stars as the oldest member of the team (and drama teacher) who struggles with watching his students become successful, while he remains unnoticed. We also have Keegan-Michael Key as the most ambitious of the group, putting himself front and center when the hit show Weekend Live (a synonym for Saturday Night Live) sends reps to one of their shows. He’s currently dating another member of the crew, played by Gillian Jacobs (of Community fame). We also have Kate Micucci, an artist who keeps on putting off her dreams and unfinished projects, and Chris Gethard as a member of the cast that works part-time giving out samples at grocery stores, not impressing his judgmental father. Lastly, we have Tami Sagher as an entitled daughter from a rich family who can’t quite relate with the struggles of the rest of the group.

dont think twice 1

What works?

I thoroughly enjoyed Don’t Think Twice but I think it’s mostly because of my theater background. If you’ve done theater, especially improv theater, this movie is made for you, full of nods and jokes to that culture and lifestyle. If you haven’t done this, this movie will still provide an interesting “behind the scenes” look at this life in a very authentic way.

I also relate to this movie because I’m a 30-something struggling with balancing art and career and hopes and dreams and this movie is all about that, mostly through Birbiglia’s character. At what point do you give up on your dreams? It’s complicated and rich and seeing these six characters come together (and clash together) is fascinating. These performances are all very good, though subtle. That subtlety is perfectly juxtaposed against their wild antics on stage.

The movie is funny, yes, but not in a way that you’ll often laugh out loud. It’s funny in the way that it’s true and sharp and satirical. It’s funny in the way that you’ll nod your head and silently mouth “Yes” after a joke.

What doesn’t work?

I can’t speak to how entertaining this would be to someone outside the theater scene. It might be interesting but a lot of the wit might be lost.

It also drags a bit in the final stretch, I found myself playing on my phone and not paying attention. Maybe it could have just been trimmed a bit or sped up in the final third.

Overall…

Don’t Think Twice is a really great ensemble character piece, about six people at very different places in their lives. It’s witty and clever, mostly to those of you that might get the jokes. It’s available now on both Netflix and Amazon Prime, I’d recommend it if you want to try something under the radar.

Rating 4 star

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