Review: The Fate of the Furious

The Fate of the Furious.

Here’s some context for my history with this franchise. I was on the fence for the first four movies but when Fast Five rolled around, things ramped up, with this franchise now becoming one of the best big-budget action movie series out there. At least, it was.

The gist.

It’s all about family. Dom (Vin Diesel) has a crew of friends that are called in to help Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) with a mission that, should it go sideways, could send Hobbs to prison. Well, things go sideways. Turns out Dom has been approached by a mysterious hacker named Cipher (Charlize Theron) and for some reason he’s betrayed his closest friends (and his lover Letty, Michelle Rodriguez). To find and capture Dom and Cipher, the head of a secret organization (Kurt Russell) steps in, bringing firepower and some new allies (highlighted by Jason Statham) to get the job done. We’ve also got series regulars Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and from the last movie, Nathalie Emmanuel.

What works?

It’s hard to continue this franchise after the loss of Paul Walker but I admit this movie tried really hard.

With Walker out of the picture, other characters got a little more time in the spotlight. Hobbs, who kind of showed up in the past films on and off, was the lead here, taking over the team that Dom left. This was a nice change, as Dwayne Johnson is electrifying whenever he’s on screen. They also gave him some character moments that gave the movie some heart that it was obviously missing now. Johnson also had a great dynamic with the return of Statham, though this rivalry never actually culminates in any sort of satisfying way.

This movie is also really funny, with Tyrese and Ludacris having a great back and forth banter as well. This feels a little overdone, as this dynamic was done in the past few movies as well, but I was still chuckling so I’ll count it as a win.

I also appreciated the creativity on display, especially a sequence involving self-driving cars. They’re managing to create really interesting action sequences, though your sense of realism has to be turned off completely. “Is every car in New York self-driving?” I asked myself during the movie. Apparently yes.

What doesn’t work?

Now, before I begin my criticisms… This is a fun action movie and you can still love it while recognizing it’s not necessarily a good movie.

Here are the things that aren’t great. The first deterrent is that the movie clocks in at 2 hours and 40 minutes. It’s entirely too long and the pacing is actually really slow, I found myself bored several times throughout the movie. In the opening scene, you’ll start to realize why it’s so long. Every shot lasts 2-3 seconds longer than it should. They showed no restraint, no urgency. The movie crawls because it takes that much longer for anything to happen.

Once the action starts, I had some problems with its execution. Many of the movie’s biggest scenes suffered from Transformers syndrome, where things just kind of melded together and explosions just kind of happened. You might be excited for this big action sequence but it’s difficult to even make sense of what’s happening on screen sometimes. The hand-to-hand sequences, most notably a jail sequence with Johnson and Statham, are victims of “shaky cam,” where the camera just shakes violently to make you feel like the action is so intense but really, it’s an illusion to overcompensate for poor choreography. If the action and fight sequences don’t look great, that knocks this movie down a couple slots already.

Now let’s get to the story. Dom betrays his family. I won’t spoil what happens but I will say his reasoning for betraying them is frustrating and nonsensical, focusing on plot elements that I thought were so insignificant in past movies that I didn’t even include them in my “What You Need to Know” video. They’ll never bring those plot points up again, I thought. Well, they’re super vital now but it’s problematic for the story in a lot of different ways.

They also add unnecessary characters to an already bloated cast. For some reason, we now have Scott Eastwood. There are two problems here. One: his character is unnecessary and contributes to a long runtime. Two: his acting here is really subpar, near cringeworthy. Then there’s the question of Jason Statham’s return. This character murdered one of their best friends and spent an entire movie trying to murder the rest of them. Their forgetfulness is super frustrating, however badass Statham might be in this movie.

Overall…

You can love this movie, that’s fine. It’s got some fun action and you’ll be laughing and it’s got some creative moments. However, it’s flawed as a movie and felt average for this genre, not really delivering much that exceeds expectations. The story is unsatisfying and the movie is about 40 minutes too long, everything feeling just a little too slow (which is unfortunate for a movie intended to be both fast and furious). After the awesomeness of entries five, six, and seven, The Fate of the Furious is a frustrating disappointment.

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Review: Life (2017)

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Life.

This movie had a lot going for it, aside from its horrible name. The fact that I have to keep referencing it as the “new Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds movie” isn’t a good sign. Wasn’t Life a followup to Planet Earth or something? I swear, this title is overused for some reason but it’s incredibly boring. Was the movie itself able to conquer this initial stumble?

The gist.

As our movie begins, the International Space Station orbiting Earth is waiting for a pod from Mars, which includes a soil sample that may include something alive. Our team finds this cellular organism, which slowly becomes predatory and they must find a way to kill it before it makes its way to Earth. Our crew includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya. These are basically the only people in the movie, aside from a few snippets in the film’s opening moments.

It’s directed by Daniel Espinosa, whose only other major release is the Ryan Reynolds/Denzel Washington flick Safe House.

What works?

This is a pretty stellar cast and they all give great performances. It’s nice to see relative unknowns, at least in English-speaking films, go toe-to-toe with heavy hitters like Gyllenhaal. If there was a weak link in a cast this small, that could’ve tanked the whole movie but luckily it’s all outstanding here. Gyllenhaal and Ferguson are really the standouts though, not surprisingly. Ferguson made an impression with her appearance in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation but this really cements that she’s going places.

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This movie isn’t really a sci-fi adventure but it’s more of a straight-up thriller like Event Horizon or the original Alien. It’s terrifying at times, claustrophobic and intense. I was surprised at how gruesome it became, so make sure you’re mentally ready for some pretty grotesque sequences.

All in all, Life is entertaining and scary and full of great performances but…

What doesn’t work?

We’ve seen much better. Like… I have nothing against McDonalds but it’s hard to say that McDonalds is a great burger after you’ve had something much better. You can still enjoy it and have a great time with Life, but you’ll be thinking the entire time about how great Alien is. This movie is cursed because of the movies that have come before it. If you want intense outer-space chaos, look to Gravity. This movie tries to do a lot of familiar things but it doesn’t really exceed at any of them.

One of the biggest flaws is probably with this alien itself, that hasn’t been shown in promos or trailers or anything. It’s unique, sure, but it’s entirely digital and not always believable. Alien featured a practical model, so that when it killed someone, that creature was actually there. Here, it feels artificial and fake and lacks some of that punch that practical effects can deliver. And if the main threat in the movie doesn’t really feel like a threat… that’s a problem.

The ending of the film also feels disappointing, though I won’t spoil it. In an effort to try to be original, it actually falls into yet another cliche.

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Overall…

Life is fine, with a somewhat cliche story that’s been done better many times. Its strength is in its cast, giving incredible performances and ending up with characters that you actually end up caring about. That’s not enough to save this movie though. You won’t be disappointed with it, just temper your expectations and prepare for some intense sequences.

Rating 3 star

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Review: The Boss Baby

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The Boss Baby.

This is the Nine Lives of 2017. It looked cringeworthy and I only wanted to see it so that I could trash it. Is that bad? I know I’m not the demographic for this movie but here’s my two cents.

The gist.

Imagine a world where some babies, before getting “sent” to a loving family, become bureaucrats in a large business focused on keeping the baby business alive and well. We meet Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin) who is sent to a family for a secret mission, though his now older brother (voiced by actual child Miles Bakshi) wants him gone and tries to unveil what Boss Baby’s plan is. The two parents (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel) have no idea about any of this.

What works?

Okay. Here’s the thing. The Boss Baby isn’t horrible. It’s made by Dreamworks, so it’s got a bit of that high quality Kung-Fu Panda feeling but then it also has that Madagascar feeling, where it’s definitely veering for a younger crowd. As an adult, I found it surprisingly clever at times, with Alec Baldwin nailing his role. It’s sharp and witty, like his role from 30 Rock but with jokes about corporate business that kids obviously wouldn’t get.

I also had much more of an emotional response than I would have guessed. This story has heart, plenty of it. The story of our older brother Tim and how he feels unloved by his parents and coming to grips with having a brother is surprisingly resonant.

Let’s discuss visuals. The trailers showed you one aspect of the movie, which looked relatively unimpressive. However, the movie itself is visually pretty incredible, with all sorts of different art styles throughout. When Tim imagines that he’s a ninja, the animation style shifts to a standard 2D animation. It shows off the creativity of a child in a really interesting way.

So this movie will appeal to kids obviously because there are plenty of fart jokes and people getting hit with things. It also will appeal to adults in a lot of ways too. Surprisingly entertaining.

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What doesn’t work?

Even if this movie is pleasantly surprising, my expectations were super low. It’s a stupid movie a lot of the time, resorting to fart gags and how gross vomit is and things like that. Adults on their own won’t have a great time here. However, if you have kids, this movie will make them howl with laughter and it will entertain you decently enough.

Here’s the problem as an adult. You want this movie to make sense. And it absolutely doesn’t. There are times when it’s clear that it’s the creativity of a child, so you don’t mind. However, there are times when the actual real events of the movie are so outlandish that your brain hurts trying to understand how it would be possible, especially the climax of the movie.

Again, kids will love this movie because they don’t care at all about that. You might though.

Overall…

If you have kids, this movie is a home-run. They’ll love it, you’ll laugh. Win-win. There are some solid jokes and plenty of visual appeal to keep you entertained. As an adult though, without kids, you may find this movie just a tad too childish to be entertaining and your brain will hurt from trying to make sense of this movie’s plot. But for kids? It’s awesome. So, recognizing this movie isn’t meant for me, I’m giving it a solid score.

Rating 3 star

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Review: Ghost in the Shell

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Ghost in the Shell.

I had absolutely zero knowledge about Ghost in the Shell before heading into the theater, only knowing that it was based on an anime. I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I also knew about the controversy of “white washing” the casting by choosing Scarlett Johansson. So I was curious if that argument was a legitimate one. Let’s see, shall we?

The gist.

We meet Scarlett Johansson as a robot named “Major,” who has been given a human brain. She’s supposedly the first one of her kind and serves as a police officer in a futuristic version of Japan. She has a human partner named Batou (played by Danish actor Pilou Asbaek) and is given orders by a man named Aramaki (played by Takeshi Kitano). They discover that someone is hacking into secret databases and eliminating people that have something to do with a secret classified experiment, somehow related to Major. We also have French actress Juliette Binoche as a doctor who is somewhat responsible for creating Major.

This movie is directed by Rupert Sanders, whose only other mainstream release was Snow White and the Huntsman.

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What works?

A lot of things work for this movie, surprisingly. The star of the show is really our setting, with some visuals that will astound you. The way this city comes alive is fantastic, with holograms and technology everywhere. The movie treats you intelligently and doesn’t explain any of this technology but you gather enough info to at least figure out most of it. It’s visually fantastic and every time we get action sequences in the main city, it’s a real treat.

I also have to say that Scarlett gives a decent performance as our lead. She’s not going to win any awards but I totally bought the performance and was compelled by her journey. Let’s address the white-washing. There’s not a lot to say here but I think most of the controversy is a bit bloated because the movie explains that she’s a robot, she’s not supposed to appear as a Japanese woman. Maybe in the anime she was supposed to be? The cast (and our world they live in) is extremely international, so it’s not like Johansson was the only odd one out either. There are story plot points that occur throughout the movie that somewhat explain her role as well, though I can’t really discuss those without spoilers. I didn’t mind and she gave a performance that is fairly convincing for the role.

The action sequences are fine but somewhat rare. They’re also prone to 300-style action where everything slows and speeds up for effect. I could’ve used more, which leads into…

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What doesn’t work?

This movie, for all of its outlandish visuals and action, is actually somewhat boring, especially in the second half of the film. They remove our cast from the big city, focus on interpersonal conflicts, and have plenty of dialogue, screeching our movie almost to a halt. I know they had to cover tons of content to get from point A to point B but the second half was just really slow comparatively. On the first half of the movie alone, I was pleasantly surprised, but it lost most momentum.

We also get a villain in the second half that is not very creative, especially considering how intriguing our world is.

Overall…

Ghost in the Shell is an oddity, that the first half is gorgeous and intriguing. The world they’ve created here is incredibly compelling. However, that slows down in the second half, giving us a somewhat cliche villain and taking away the colors and personality that were keeping us entertained. It’s a boring journey in that second half, dropping this score down quite a bit. Is the movie bad? No. It’s partially great and partially disappointing.

Rating 3 star

 

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Review: Power Rangers (2017)

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Power Rangers.

Here’s the thing. I used to be like THE biggest Power Rangers fan. I had all the toys, that you could flip so that either their face was exposed or they were wearing the mask. I had all the Zords, including the first and second generation that could all come together to make the Mega-Zords. I had everything. But then, we all grow up. So going into this movie, I was hesitant that this could faithfully recreate my childhood and also be a good movie.

The gist.

In this version of the Power Rangers, our five leads are complicated, much deeper than what the television shows gave us. Most of them are in detention. All of them are struggling with something. They end up at the same place at the same time and discover five powerful coins that give them amazing abilities. We’ve got our leader, the former football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery). Billy (RJ Cyler) is somewhat of a genius, somewhere on the autistic spectrum, and is the one urging exploration. Kimberly (Naomi Scott) is a former cheerleader, ousted from popularity in a story that unfolds throughout the movie. Zack (Ludi Lin) is a loner who takes care of his sick mother, worried that he’ll have nothing once she’s gone. And lastly we have Trini (Becky G) who is the new girl at the school and a mystery to everyone.

Together they stumble upon a spaceship that houses a giant face named Zordon (voiced by Bryan Cranston) and a robot named Alpha Five (voiced by Bill Hader). They help the Power Rangers train in preparation to stop the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

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What works?

This movie manages to do something that rarely works and that’s to bring something back to relevance and establish it as a franchise again. This movie works in a lot of different ways.

First off, it was an incredibly smart move to hire nobodies (except for the semi-popular, in very niche circles, Becky G). We had no expectations for these people. They all turned in great performances, giving us deeper and more realistic characters than we ever got in the old series. They felt like real people, with struggles and multilayered identities. I teared up a few times, I got goosebumps a few times. This movie works because we are rooting for these people as characters. Them hopping into suits and fighting is almost secondary, which seems blasphemous, but it works.

The script takes its time, which is something rare as well. I worried this movie would try to clone Transformers, which the trailers definitely resembled. This movie smartly showed restraint. There are action sequences to keep you entertained, but they don’t really suit up or fight until much much later in the movie, which might disappoint a big portion of you. I didn’t mind though because of these characters. You see them grow and evolve and bond and so when they finally morph for the first time, it’s something memorable.

The fights are also pretty cool, however limited they are. I think of it this way… This movie did all the set up so that the inevitable sequel(s) will be able to hop in and have them get straight to the action. Those movies will be able to build on this foundation. This movie sacrificed action for character but I was totally on-board. The few fight sequences we did get were cool, with plenty of reminiscent moments but plenty of unique spins as well.

Is there an after-credits scene?

There is one partway through the credits, nothing all the way at the end.

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What didn’t work?

Surprisingly, I was less enthused with the actual big-name talent here. Bryan Cranston was fine. Bill Hader’s voice got a bit tiring and Alpha Five as a character seemed too forced as the comedic relief. And then there’s Elizabeth Banks… Rita is supposed to be this wild and deranged character but her outlandishness really stood out against the more grounded and realistic approach of this movie. When we’d get a Rita scene, it was cringeworthy in comparison to everything else.

And like I said, some of you may walk out of this theatre thinking it was boring. I wouldn’t blame you. The fighting will come later, now that we’ve established everything else.

Also, this isn’t really a kids movie. One of the opening jokes of the movie is about accidentally milking a male cow, which is 1.) overdone and lazy writing and 2.) is not appropriate for kids at all. There are a few too many sex jokes to really be appropriate for young kids, unless maybe they wouldn’t understand? With the borderline inappropriate jokes and the overall slow and actionless story, kids would likely enjoy something else instead.

Overall…

I was incredibly surprised here because remakes and reboots rarely work. Here though, I was able to feel nostalgic while also enjoying a quality product. It’s not stellar, though, dragged down by a ridiculous performance from Elizabeth Banks and a somewhat slow story, though these character moments are great, building a foundation that I hope leads to many sequels to come.

Rating 4 star

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Review: CHIPS (2017)

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CHIPS.

This movie, a remake of a late 70s television show, just kind of appeared, without much fanfare. But it’s here now, at theaters around the world. Is it worth checking out? Or is the uneventful launch an ominous sign?

The gist.

Dax Shepard wrote, directed, and stars in this remake, focusing on a former stunt motorcyclist that wants to become an officer in the California Highway Patrol to win the love and respect of his soon-to-be former wife (Kristen Bell, Shepard’s real life wife). He’s paired up with an undercover FBI agent (Michael Pena) who is investigating a series of robberies that seem to be connected to a group of corrupt cops, led by a threatening Vincent D’Onofrio.

What works?

When it comes to R-rated raunchy comedies, you probably know if that’s your thing. This movie has plenty of typical jokes, plenty of them revolving around slapstick violence, nudity, and throwing up. It’s juvenile but I know there’s an audience for that. If that’s you, you may enjoy this movie way more than others that might be a little more conservative.

The thing that holds this all together is the chemistry between Shepard and Pena. They’re likeable and interesting and just watching them banter is pretty amusing. Pena, after his role in Ant-Man, has really solidified himself now as a comedy actor that can hold his own.

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I also appreciated D’Onofrio as the main villain. Like his role in Daredevil, he’s a powerful force here, including a confrontation in a gym that is really threatening. He’s a badass and it’s great to see him back in the spotlight.

In general, the movie’s pretty fun and there are some great moments that mesh action and comedy together. These moments however are sandwiched between some pretty inconsistent storytelling…

What doesn’t work?

Shepard does fine as an actor but as a writer, I feel like he wasn’t quite prepared for this project. There are some major problems on the page, that his charisma or Pena’s comedy chops couldn’t save.

First off, the movie struggles with tone. It’s crude and gross at times, then turning for a second into a serious moment about Shepard’s character and his addiction to painkillers. There are glimpses into this serious story and those glimpses are great, with some actual fantastic acting from Shepard, but it’s hard to take that in, when the movie shifts immediately into a bunch of fart jokes. Pena’s character has a sex addiction that is somewhere in this weird space between serious and comedic, when you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be laughing.

The movie also suffers from inconsistent pacing. It feels like there are a few key moments and the rest is ad-libbed to fill in the blanks. This slows things way down, when these ad-lib scenes get long and the jokes don’t necessarily hit. It can be a tad boring for stretches.

In terms of topic, I mentioned it gets crude and some parts will likely trigger the more sensitive of you, especially regarding a reoccurring joke about Pena’s supposed homophobia. There are some potentially problematic bits, to be sure.

Movie review

Overall…

CHIPS is fine. Those of you that veer towards wanting slapstick and gross humor might enjoy this more than those of you wanting something a little deeper. I was disappointed when I would catch glimpses into something potentially really cool, just to see it devolve again. Some missed opportunities for sure. On a superficial level, there are some really funny bits but also some really flat bits. Not a bad movie, but not a stellar outing for Shepard as a writer/director either.

Rating 3 star

 

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Review: This is Us (Season One)

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This is Us (Season One).

I don’t review every show on network television that I watch but This is Us just finished its first season and the entirety of the first season is streaming now on Hulu Plus so I wanted to give you all a reason to check it out.

The gist.

We follow a lot of individual people in this ensemble cast and throughout the first episode, you’re discovering how they’re connected. I’ll try to remain spoiler free in that regard.

First we follow a married couple (Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia) as she is about go into birth. Our episodes jump through time a bit, so we get to see this couple throughout their first encounters, raising their children, and even many many years later. We follow another married couple (Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson), who are raising two young girls and attempting to connect with Brown’s birth father for the first time, all while Brown is also a workaholic struggling with anxiety. Next we follow two siblings, one an actor in a hit sitcom (Justin Hartley) and the other a woman struggling with being overweight and finding love (Chrissy Metz). These stories all intertwine and connect in really interesting ways, which over the first few episodes will all make sense.

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What works? 

This is Us is one of my favorite television shows right now, though I have a habit of falling for shows that sharply decline after their first stellar season. I’m hoping this show doesn’t pull an Empire or even a Heroes, another Ventimiglia project.

Here’s the thing you need to know though. You must be a sucker for crying. If you are hesitant to open your heart and experience these peoples’ lives in the most raw and realest of ways, you won’t enjoy this. It will come off as overly dramatic. Your thoughts on this show hinges on your enjoyment of this sometimes unbearable emotional torture.

This show succeeds because they have a great cast that can pull off some exceptional writing. These overly dramatic events seem real and plausible because the cast play as perfect, like we’re watching these events unfold in real life. I instinctively want to shout out the best cast members but it’s very hard to highlight just a single one or two. They all have moments to shine and bring you to tears. This show is very similar to Parenthood, which also brought together an ensemble cast that worked very well together.

If I had to pick a favorite, different than picking the best, I’d say Sterling K. Brown is a highlight, especially his story arcs involving his birth father (Ron Cephas Jones) and attempting to connect with someone that you’ve spent your whole life wondering about. This is a beautiful story here and one that will have you crying nearly every episode.

This show also smartly plays with time, showing you flashbacks and moments in history, even giving you mysteries to try to predict. The structure of the show keeps it fresh and interesting. This structure, combined with great writing and a stellar cast, makes this show consistently solid.

This Is Us - Season 1

What doesn’t work?

Like I said, your enjoyment is based on if you like stories that punch you in the gut every episode. I relish in that sort of emotional torture, so I find this show to be right up my alley. It’s real and raw, though of course ramped up to make it entertaining for television.

And while the first season is 18 episodes, some of it is spent in subplots and side stories that maybe don’t contribute to the end goal. There will be a few episodes every once in a while that sends one of our leads on a new journey, just to have them return to the status quo soon after. You could use the word “filler” and I wouldn’t object. It’s rare but it’s there.

Overall…

This is Us is something special. And now that you can catch the entire first season on Hulu Plus, there’s no reason for you to not give it a chance. It’s enjoyable but it’s also heartbreaking. In the end though, you’ll feel hopeful. The ensemble cast is perfect, the writing is raw and real, and the structure of the show keeps the storylines interesting. This is likely the best show on television right now.

Rating 5 star

 

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