Film Review: RiffTrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party (2017)

Release Date: June 15th, 2017
Written by: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Paul F. Tompkins
Cast: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Paul F. Tompkins

RiffTrax, 120 Minutes

Review:

While this isn’t a typical movie in a movie format, I did see it theatrically, as it was intended, and I had a damn fine time.

Unlike most of the RiffTrax Live events, this one wasn’t about featuring a single motion picture. This event showcased a series of educational shorts.

For fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, riffing on educational shorts is a long and celebrated tradition by these guys. Back then, shorts were used to fill up the two-hour time slot if the featured movie wasn’t long enough. MST3K often times used low budget B-movies from yesteryear. Usually those movies have much shorter running times so the space on the show had to be filled. This RiffTrax special honored that part of their legacy.

This show also was a MST3K reunion of sorts, as it didn’t just feature Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett but it included Trace Beaulieu, Frank Contiff, Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson. Comedian Paul F. Tompkins also showed up for this riffing extravaganza.

The shorts Ricky Raccoon Shows the Way and Rhythmic Ball Skills were riffed by the normal team of Mr. Nelson, Murphy and Corbett. Office Etiquette was handled by Beaulieu and Contiff while The Griper was riffed by Pehl and Mrs. Nelson. A Touch of Magic was presented by Paul F. Tompkins, as well as Mr. Nelson, Murphy and Corbett. The final and most bizarre short of the seven featured was The Baggs, which was riffed by the entire cast.

Before the big finale, which was The Baggs, they showed a cool clip reel of the best of the 300-plus other shorts they have riffed over the years.

I really enjoyed this style of RiffTrax event, even more so than them just riffing on a movie. The two hours flew by and I found myself laughing a lot more than I do with typical theatrical comedies. The theater I was at wasn’t packed but the people there were really enjoying themselves and letting loose. It was the best theatergoing experience I have had in years.

Ultimately, I hope they do more events like this. It was a blast and I’m even considering going back to catch the encore in a few days.

Film Review: It Comes At Night (2017)

Release Date: April 29th, 2017 (Timberline Lodge premiere)
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
Written by: Trey Edwards Shults
Music by: Brian McOmber
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough

Animal Kingdom, A24, 91 Minutes

Review:

I went into this movie really knowing nothing about it. I never saw a trailer for it and it came out and got lost in the shuffle of the summer blockbusters. However, I did notice its pretty high rating on Rotten Tomatoes and thought it was a horror film worth checking out.

While considered horror, it really isn’t. It is more of a dark thriller with some mystery. There aren’t really any monsters or creatures to worry about and the title and marketing of the film are pretty misleading, in my opinion. Yes, there is a lot of nighttime darkness in the film but there is no clear indication of what “It” is. And really, “It” doesn’t exist. The real threat is what happens when people with good intentions can’t trust one another and are overcome by paranoia. If that is the “It” from the title, it’s a massive disappointment.

The film, like its title, is full of red herrings. So many red herrings in fact that it becomes tedious keeping up with them and ultimately, none of them matter. The story opens up a lot of avenues and mysteries to explore but then never goes down those paths. While the film does a great job of reeling you in and building suspense for the first 90 percent, the last 10 percent is an anticlimactic clusterfuck that makes most of that previous 90 percent inconsequential and pointless.

The idea behind this film also isn’t anything new. These ideas and these aspects of human nature have been explored in just about every episode of The Walking Dead, and much more effectively. Hell, we’ve seen this story play out in countless zombies movies and really anything that is set in a post-apocalyptic world.

The positives of the film aren’t enough to save it.

The acting is pretty good but most of that is due to Joel Edgerton, who impresses me more and more with each picture, taking on the bulk of the acting duties. His son, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., does a good job being the eyes and emotion of the audience but he doesn’t really get to evolve or explore his character other than emotionally reacting to his world and his loved ones crumbling around him.

The cinematography is also a strong positive. While it isn’t anything groundbreaking, the tone of the film is probably the most effective thing about it. The house is welcoming during the day but a dark and dreadful place at night. The long dark corridor to the back door is really a character all its own.

I can’t say that I was disappointed with the film, as I went into it blindly and without expectations. However, as it rolled on, my expectations rose only to have them slapped back down when the climax arrived.

Film Review: The Mummy (2017)

Release Date: May 22nd, 2017 (State Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Written by: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman, Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Russell Crowe

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

Well, it’s here. This is the start of Universal Pictures’ attempt at resurrecting their old school Universal Monsters franchise into something more modern and unified like what Marvel has done with the Avengers series of films and like what DC is now doing with their Justice League movies that started with Man of Steel.

Universal has plans to bring back their classic monsters in what they are now officially calling Dark UniverseThe Mummy is the first of these pictures and one would hope that it would be a great start. The big problem is that it isn’t.

I’ve seen a ton of critics and fans trashing this film. While it isn’t as bad as many would have you believe, it certainly has a lot of issues that kick off this Dark Universe franchise pretty weakly.

The biggest problem is Tom Cruise. I’m not hating on Cruise per se but his inclusion in the picture is a distraction. We essentially have typical Tom Cruise making intense faces and trying to prove his manliness and coolness while two women half his age fight over him. He is just quintessential Tom Cruise and that is not what this film needs.

Going forward, a lot of huge names have been mentioned around this franchise and that’s the problem. Unlike Marvel, Universal doesn’t seem to be casting actors that fit parts the right way, they seem to be latching onto star power for the sake of star power.

Another problem is that there isn’t really a sequence that stands out from this film. Nothing is all that memorable or impressive. Its a collage of cookie cutter action sequences that tries to be something big but falls short.

The attempts at humor throughout the film also fall flat. Jake Johnson is there as Cruise’s wisecracking sidekick zombie but his wisecracks just don’t hit the right notes. Cruise tries his hand at some comic relief too but nothing really works.

While I would say that this is a better film, overall, than those atrocious Mummy films with Brendan Fraser, at least those pictures had some truly fun moments. This new Mummy flick is completely devoid of fun and while it tries to be more terrifying, it really isn’t.

There are a few highlights to the film, however.

The first being Sofia Boutella as the mummy. It was refreshing seeing a female mummy and she had a much better presence than anyone else on screen except for Russell Crowe.

Crowe plays Dr. Henry Jekyll. Yes, THAT Dr. Jekyll. He is in the film the same way Samuel Jackson was in the first Iron Man film; he is the character that is going to tie all of these Dark Universe movies together. We also get a nice peek at Mr. Hyde. Okay, more than just a peek but it sets him up nicely, going forward in this series.

As far as the other famous Universal Monsters creatures, we get a glimpse at the Gillman’s hand and a vampire’s skull. This is was done similar to the Easter eggs in the first Iron Man. But really, it just feels like Universal is trying to emulate Marvel too much and I really don’t know what the end game is? A monster Avengers team? But hopefully Universal can do better with their villains than Marvel has done cinematically.

The Mummy is not a good foundation for a franchise but it was a fair attempt that could have been better. It didn’t deter my interest in what else is coming in the future but that is also due to my love of the original Universal Monsters franchise. These monsters are beloved characters in film and literature and although they have all been reinvented more times than one can count, seeing them come together again could be a real treat if the big wigs at Universal learn from this film’s mistakes and correct those issues going forward.

Film Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Release Date: May 15th, 2017 (Shanghai)
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Written by: Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs
Based on: Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston
Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremmer, Eugene Brave Rock

DC Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Tencent Pictures, Wanda Pictures, Warner Bros., 141 Minutes

Review:

So far, I have not liked the DC Comics films that have been coming out as a part of their shared cinematic universe. Man of Steel was not my cup of tea, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was littered with serious issues and Suicide Squad was a complete clusterfuck of biblical proportions. Wonder Woman, however, has been receiving a ton of praise from critics and I’ve really only heard good things from those who were able to see it early. So how does it measure up?

Well, this is hands down the best DC Comics film since Christopher Nolan was making Batman movies. It blows all of their recent movies out of the water and then shoots them back down again while they are still in mid-air. And then it blows them out of the water again.

Wonder Woman is great. It is the type of film that DC needed to get the locomotive back on its tracks. It makes me wish that the shared universe started here and we could wipe away those three previous films. And ultimately, I can only hope that this means that great things are coming in the future and that the people behind these movies have now righted the ship.

Most importantly, we now have a female superhero movie that doesn’t suck. And on that same token, it carries a strong feminist message without making itself too preachy. It has a good balance of showcasing the inequality of women during its historical era without beating it over the audience’s head like Hollywood likes to do.

When Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman, I didn’t know much about her. Her casting is really what makes this picture work so well. She is perfect as Wonder Woman and showed that she had the ability to carry a huge motion picture on her back. Plus, she was the focal point in this film, the one to really turn DC’s film universe around.

Additionally, Chris Pine was a great choice for Steve Trevor. He’s starting to become a favorite of mine between this film and his ability to really nail Captain Kirk in the modern Star Trek films despite those films not feeling all that Trekish. He has a certain charm and charisma that go beyond just his looks. Plus, he has great comedic timing and delivery.

I love the music in this film much more than the other DC Comics pictures. Wonder Woman’s theme is simply bad ass. I can’t even recall what theme plays for Batman or Superman.

Now with all these positives, I do have to reel it back in a bit.

While the film was pretty good for a summer blockbuster, I don’t know if it has lasting power. It is good by comparison of what constitutes a normal tent pole film but it lacked in depth and didn’t generate the same sort of feeling you get when you know you are watching a classic for the first time.

The plot was pretty straightforward but it wasn’t all that interesting. The villain just kind of shows up at the end but the twist of who he actually is was not a surprise and I suspected it before it happened. Also, the final battle between Wonder Woman and Ares wasn’t very good. It was like a music video where the music was replaced with philosophical banter about the nature of man and it came off to make Ares look like a complete chump. Ares barely fazed Wonder Woman and she just sort of throws his lightning back at him, obliterating him. It was overly stylized visual poetry where there was no real feeling that Wonder Woman was in any real danger.

Also, for a film as long as this is, it didn’t feel like a whole lot happened. Once we get off of the magical island where the Amazons live, it is quite some time before there is any real battle. And when we finally get to that point, Wonder Woman is invincible and just crushes all the baddies, no sweat. I get that she is a god but this is why I’ve always had issues with Superman and Wonder Woman stories. They need a threat that is actually a threat and even though Wonder Woman confronts another god, she’s the “God Killer”. I kind of just hope Darkseid shows up in one of these movies soon.

Negatives aside, this film is full of a lot more positives and it is worth your time, if you are a fan of superhero flicks. It also gives little girls a film of their own because ElektraCatwoman and so many others didn’t cut it.

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Release Date: May 11th, 2017 (Shanghai premiere)
Directed by: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Written by: Jeff Nathanson, Terry Rossio
Based on: the Pirates of the Caribbean amusement park ride by Walt Disney, characters by Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Music by: Geoff Zanelli
Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley

Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Walt Disney, 142 Minutes

Review:

I went into Dead Men Tell No Tales expecting a very lackluster effort by Disney after their previous two Pirates of the Caribbean films. You see, I loved the first one and the second one was pretty good. However, the third was a convoluted mess and the fourth, despite the inclusion of the always great Ian McShane, was quite horrible.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a blend of all the things I love about these films and all the things I loathe. However, the balance does lean more towards the things I love.

The real question is, “Why do we see these movies?” The answer, “Because we want to have some fun.” Does this succeed at fun? Yes.

Johnny Depp is so natural as Captain Jack Sparrow that he can dial in his performance and still nail the role. Despite all the iconic parts he has ever played, Jack Sparrow is the quintessential Johnny Depp role, at this point. He is a man of great talent and skill, always takes a unique and strange path to fantastic results and always looks like he enjoys his craft. I’m talking about both Depp and Sparrow.

Of course, despite Depp’s greatness, the highlights of these films for me has always been Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa. He is a complex character that started out as the villain in the first picture but from film to film, always leaves you guessing as to which side he’s on. But he always comes out a hero, despite his love for piracy and treachery. Dead Men Tell No Tells, however, becomes Barbossa’s most important and personal story.

I have always loved Javier Bardem and seeing him in this as the villain Captain Armando Salazar was pretty cool. He was my favorite of the villains after Barbossa. His story was also really interesting, as he isn’t a pirate but more of a pirate hunter. After meeting his demise, thanks to a young Jack Sparrow, he existed in a place of darkness for decades, waiting for the moment where he and his ghostly looking crew could reenter our world and exact revenge against Sparrow.

The newcomers Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario were both very good. However, they didn’t have the presence and chemistry with the rest of the cast that Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley did in the first three pictures. Out of the two, I thought Scodelario was the more interesting character.

Speaking of Bloom and Knightley, they both return, albeit very briefly, but it does setup their involvement in the next film which is to be the grand finale, or so Disney says. The third film was supposed to be the last and that was three films ago.

Having two directors, I was worried about how this film would turn out. Ultimately, it is a good effort by the directors, Disney and the actors. The new settings and the quest for the newest treasure where refreshing and exciting. Sure, some sequences are way too over the top but these films are really just fantasy epics with some swashbuckling added in. They aren’t supposed to be smart or captivating movies, they are supposed to be a wild adventure and that’s exactly what this is.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a popcorn flick. It doesn’t try to be more than that and it doesn’t need to be more than that. It doesn’t need to be the Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings of the ocean. And frankly, Captain Jack Sparrow isn’t a character I will ever grow tired of. And to be honest, I wouldn’t mind revisiting him time and time again. I do like that Disney took a lengthier break between the last film and this one. The absence made the heart grow fonder but I didn’t come to that realization until I was sitting in the theater and saw a hungover Captain Jack wake up inside a bank vault he intended to steal.

Watching this film, I had the feeling that Depp’s Sparrow had now become this generation’s version of Charlie Chaplin’s the Tramp.

Film Review: Get Out (2017)

Release Date: January 24th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Written by: Jordan Peele
Music by: Michael Abels
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Catherine Keener, Erika Alexander

Blumhouse Productions, QC Entertainment, Monkeypaw Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

I wanted to see this in the theater but a lot was going on back in February-March. I went to a wedding out of state when this came out and then March was full of a ton of big new movies each week. So, unfortunately, Get Out was lost in the shuffle. But I did successfully avoid any and all spoilers because I wanted to experience this not knowing more than what was in the first trailer. I’m so glad I didn’t have it spoiled.

That being said, it is impossible to discuss this film without spoiling some of the details. Consider this a warning, if you haven’t yet seen Get Out. You definitely should go into this movie knowing as little as possible.

This picture is an incredibly unique experience. While it focuses on racism, it doesn’t showcase it in the way that you’d assume. This is really the first movie that I have seen that displays a more modern and realistic approach to how racism has evolved in America.

Get Out takes a serious look at how the guilt-ridden white middle class has this ideology that they have to atone for what their ancestors have done to blacks in the United States. They’re the type of people that have to add their voice to the voice of black America, often times yelling over them in an effort to show that they aren’t their parents or grandparents. They’re down, they get it and damn it, they’ll do everything to try and improve blacks’ lives whether blacks want them to or not. They force their helping hand into everything even though blacks didn’t ask for it. They overcompensate to the extreme because the weight of our nation’s history is too heavy for them to bear. But the result of this, is white people, despite their good intentions, taking it upon themselves to control black lives. It undermines the plight of black people and their fight. Is it any better to say, “We treated you like shit but get on our backs now, we’re going to keep you above the water.”

The point is, Get Out raises a lot of questions and exposes a lot of issues regarding race relations in today’s America. It brings things to the forefront that have never been showcased in this way. It looks at how America has changed since having its first black president and how the social issues in this country are a lot more complex than trying to force a Band-Aid on a massive boo-boo.

The film conveys all this through the motivations of the sinister characters in the film. And frankly, it is all summed up in one line of dialogue around the middle of the film when Stephen Root’s Jim Hudson says to Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington, and I’m paraphrasing here, that “These people mean well but they’ve never really lived lives.”

The way that the film is able to convey these ideas is absolutely brilliant and even though I liked Jordan Peele before he wrote and directed this picture, I’m a much bigger fan now. A lot of the credit also has to go to the cast. Everyone was pretty much perfect.

The real weight of the picture rests on the shoulders of Daniel Kaluuya, though. He gave one of the best performances I have seen in years. Between the way he was able to connect with the audience compounded by how truly screwed up his situation was, I was completely overwhelmed by the emotion and the tension. Get Out is one of the most suspenseful and nerve-racking motion pictures I have ever seen. That’s a testament to the skill of Peele behind the camera, behind the pen and Kaluuya on the screen.

The performances by Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root and all the other townspeople were stellar. Lil Rel Howery was perfection as the much needed comic device in the film. Without him, the film may have been way too heavy. His character of Rod always showed up at the right time just to ease up on some of the tension. His scene with Erika Alexander is especially great.

Jordan Peele should feel a real sense of accomplishment for this film. He’s created a modern masterpiece and done more in just this one film than what most filmmakers do over the course of their whole careers. I really regret not seeing this in the theater, as it is now the best new film that I’ve seen in 2017.

Film Review: Alien: Covenant (2017)

Release Date: May 4th, 2017 (Leicester Square premiere)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, Michael Green
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Demián Bichir, Guy Pearce, James Franco

Scott Free Productions, 20th Century Fox, 123 Minutes

Review:

Well, Alien: Covenant finally came out. We’re eight Alien movies deep into the franchise now, if you count the two Alien v. Predator movies (which you actually shouldn’t). Also, this one is a direct sequel to Prometheus and part of the prequel series of films leading up to the original Alien. This is also the third of these films directed by the man behind the franchise, Ridley Scott.

While I generally liked the first prequel, Prometheus, I was never in love with it and it made the whole Alien mythos more confusing. Well, Alien: Covenant does more of the same in an attempt to connect some of the unconnected dots after Prometheus shook the snow globe to hell.

The problem with Alien: Covenant is that it shakes the snow globe even more. I’ve really just gotten to the point where I’m kind of dismissing a lot of the plot details in an effort to not let these films take anything away from the near masterpiece of the original Alien.

One thing is clear though, despite Ridley Scott saying he had a big plan for how all of these films lead to Alien, the people behind these movies are just making stuff up on the fly. There doesn’t seem to be a real plan, it’s sort of like, “Well, we’ve done this, so now how do we get from here to there?” I guess we won’t know for sure until the next film comes out but I can’t see how this is all going to magically come together and make a lick of sense. While I’m not a fan of having to over explain a movie, these films have painted themselves into a corner now and it’s almost necessary to have to spell everything out. Keeping things sort of ambiguous with a few minor reveals, here and there, just makes these films annoying.

Now the acting is top notch and the cast was pretty impressive. I was especially impressed with how good Danny McBride was in a serious role. I hope this opens some more doors for him. I also liked seeing Demián Bichir, as he is starting to get a lot more work and always brings some gravitas and style to a film. Katherine Waterson was a sort of proto-Ripley the same way that Noomi Rapace was in Prometheus but she doesn’t bring it like Rapace did. She’s good but she’s not the great character that Dr. Elizabeth Shaw or Ellen Ripley were.

The effects were a mixed bag. Everything was solid until the final third of the film. The battle on the crane ship was kind of hokey and the CGI was clunky in parts. It was almost comically bad and really ruined the tone of the film. Also, McBride is the pilot. He has one job and he really sucked at it. But at least we got a real alien xenomorph in the sequence.

One scene that worked really well though, was when our marooned heroes had to battle the albino xenomorphs in the grass field. It reminded me of that awesome velociraptor grassland scene from The Lost World where you see people running and raptor tails perking up above the tall grass as they stealthily pick people off.

Also, the scene where the android David is face-to-face with the tall albino xenomorph was really cool until Billy Crudup screwed it up. I wanted to see David communicate with the creature and to see where that was going to go, as he sees these homicidal beasts as his children.

Ultimately, Alien: Covenant is the worst of the three Alien films directed by Scott. It is not a bad film but it doesn’t really seem to have much of a purpose. It advances David’s story beyond Prometheus but nothing about his character or his motivations is surprising. The big twist involving him at the end is not shocking and it was actually anticipated.

Alien: Covenant is really a dud. I’d much rather see them make the Neill Blomkamp proposed Alien movie that features Ellen Ripley and Cpl. Hicks.