“Blade Runner: 2049”

I’ve now seen Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated film, Blade Runner: 2049 twice. That alone should tell you how I feel about the film.

Thirty years after Deckard (Harrison Ford) fled with Rachael (Sean Young), we’re introduced to a new blade runner named K (Ryan Gosling). K’s tasked uncovers a certain secret that’s connected to him and Deckard, and threatens what remains of order. That’s all you need to know.

Blade Runner: 2049 was my most anticipated film of 2017 and it lives up to the hype. This is a mesmerizing film that maintains its predecessor’s tone and aesthetics while acting as a stand alone film. It’s currently my favorite film of 2017.

A lot has changed between 2019 and 2049 in the Blade Runner universe. Replicants have evolved, computers have evolved, and the world is now overpopulated and decayed. LA isn’t just rainy; it’s snowy, foggy, and smoggy. There isn’t a single shot of sunshine, yet the film is still stunning.

From start to finish, Blade Runner: 2049 is eye candy. I was mesmerized between the aerial shots of K driving through the neon skyscrapers and the shots of him walking through dark hallways and smoggy landscapes. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, Prisoners, No Country for Old Men, Fargo) once again proves he’s the master of cinematography.

This isn’t a style over substance film by any means. Much like Ridley Scott’s masterful predecessor, Villeneuve’s sequel maintains the philosophical themes and ambiguous questions about life, death, and humanity. It also raises new ones about memory, miracles, evolution, and survival. 2049 isn’t at all a rehash of the first film.

2049 is 2 hours and 43 minutes long (roughly 44 minutes longer than the original) and is an epic in scale and tone. If you saw Villeneuve’s previous works Sicario and Prisoners, you know he has a knack for violent quick bursts of action. 2049 has enough to satisfy action lovers.

Everyone in the cast is perfect. Gosling delivers another cool, expressionistic performance as a troubled antihero. Ford portrays Deckard as a traumatized battle-torn veteran with grace. Robin Wright adds some humanity to her cold character Detective Joshi; she’s K’s superior and acts as a caring maternal figure. Even Jared Leto has a few golden moments as a god complex-ridden replicant manufacturer, Niander Wallace. Of all the performances, Sylvia Hoeks shines as Luv, Wallace’s replicant enforcer who wants to prove she’s the superior replicant.

Blade Runner was an acquired taste and 2049 isn’t any different. If you want an artistic epic that’s restrained in action but grandiose in themes, 2049 is for you. Villeneuve once again proves he’s one of the best working filmmakers to date.

Grade: A+

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“Battle of the Sexes”

I’ve heard claims that Battle of the Sexes is an analogy for last year’s Trump-Clinton election. That’s not the case at all, though I can see both Emma Stone and Steve Carell playing Clinton and Trump in a future satire.

Women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King (Stone) is fed up with the gender wage gap and misogyny in the ATP. Washed up tennis player-turned-hustler Bobby Riggs (Carell) sees King’s crusade as a prophet for him and proposes a match dubbed “Battle of the Sexes.” King gladly accepts since Riggs continuously mocks women’s tennis.

Battle of the Sexes is a better-than-average biopic thanks to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s (Little Miss Sunshine) direction and Stone and Carell’s performances. The film is filled with glossy 70’s visuals and some beautiful, expressive shots. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of witty dialogue and banter thanks to the terrific Simon Beaufoy’s (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) script.

Battle of the Sexes’s best aspect is its complex characters. This isn’t a black-and-white depiction of King versus Riggs, but quite the opposite. King plays for a cause, but has some flaws of her own in her love life. Riggs plays for attention and is clearly putting on a show to recapture his lost glory. Both Stone and Carell excel in capturing the emotions and complexity of their respective characters.

The film suffers from trying too hard at being Oscar bait on occasion. It’s quite obvious with Alan Cumming’s character’s closing line that the filmmakers are campaigning for the upcoming awards season. Also, like most biopics, we get closing captions in the end. It would be nice to see a biopic that defies this convention.

Still, I recommend Battle of the Sexes. It has spirit, humor, panache, and complexity.

Grade: A-

“American Made”

I love Tom Cruise and I love when Cruise gets a good script. American Made certainly makes up for last June’s The Mummy.

Based on a true story, American Made focuses on Barry Seal (Cruise). Seal was an airline pilot who began taking surveillance photos for the CIA until the Medellín Cartel took notice. Seal then smuggled hundreds of kilos of cocaine weekly for the cartel while simultaneously transporting weapons and soldiers for the CIA.

Seal says in a video camera at one point, “You can stop here if you want because shit gets crazy.” Seal is right. American Made is a funny, fascinating, and occasionally insane biopic. Director Doug Liman (Edge of TomorrowThe Bourne Identity) could have taken a formulaic approach and mimic Scorsese’s biographical style with nonlinear narratives, extreme violence, and classic rock (as other directors have). Props to Liman for directing the film in a minimalist, docudrama style; it makes American Made’s crazier and extravagant moments feel more believable.

Cruise delivers one of his best roles as Barry Seal. Cruise is the cool guy as usual, but Seal isn’t an action hero. Seal is an adrenaline junkie who knows he’s in over his head; he just doesn’t want to stop since the money and thrills are too good. It’s a life-imitating-art case since Cruise often performs his own stunts for the sheer thrill.

American Made isn’t a perfect biopic since it’s formulaic. Much like Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, War Dogs, Pain & Gain, 21, and the other rags-to-riches crime films, we know there’s a downfall and the final act is slower like the other films. Liman doesn’t rely too heavily on formula as mentioned, so that’s a plus.

Grade: B+

“Gerald’s Game”

What a year for Stephen King, huh? He’s rolling in royalties from It and The Dark Tower (maybe not so much the latter. Now his controversial novel Gerald’s Game has been adapted for Netflix.

The estranged Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) take a vacation to spice up their love life. Things take a horrific turn when Gerald suffers a heart attack and leaves Jessie handcuffed to her bed. There’s no neighbors, housekeepers, or travelers nearby. When Jessie has some surreal hallucinations and a starving dog makes its way inside, how will Jessie escape? Can she even?

Writer/director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) once again delivers a nail-biting genre film that utilizes editing to its full potential. Gerald’s Game isn’t a film you can look away from (and you’ll want to at one particular point), but you must watch; like Oculus, Flanagan splices the film in a way that tricks its viewers.

I want to be abundantly clear that Gerald’s Game is NOT a horror film. Yes, there’s a survival situation, creepy visions, and some grisly moments, but it’s a film about toxic relationships, trauma, and catharsis.

Jessie spends most of her time shackled to the bed recounting her marriage to Gerald. We learn that Gerald was misogynistic, unfaithful, manipulative, and condescending towards Jessie. Jessie also finds catharsis in the situation as she uses this and flashbacks of her traumatic childhood to motivate her.

The underrated Carla Gugino delivers a demanding-yet-graceful performance as Jessie. We don’t just watch her panic, but we also see her interact with an imagined dominant version of herself. These sequences add the right dose of humor. Hopefully, the Academy isn’t too snobby over horror or Netflix and consider Gugino for Best Actress.

Bruce Greenwood (also underrated) is convincing as Gerald. He’s a despicable human in the opening act, but as Jessie imagines their confrontations throughout the film, he becomes more complex.

The final act is a slight copout; It’s a pet peeve of mine when films end in a exposition-fueled narrative explaining what happened in the aftermath. Gerald’s Game disappointingly does this via written letter. Given Flanagan’s unconventional narrative techniques, I would have expected something less straightforward.

Still, Gerald’s Game is a terrific thriller and a great kickoff for the Halloween season.

Grade: A-

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle”

Given how the kinetic and talented Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman: The Secret Service) directed Kingsman: The Golden Circle, it’s no wonder he doesn’t like doing sequels.

Set a year after Eggsy (Taron Egerton) thwarted the apocalypse in The Secret Service, a new diabolical villain named Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) surfaces with a plot to legalize drugs. Poppy destroys the Kingsman headquarters and kills several agents, forcing Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) to partner with the Statesman, their American counterpart. They also find Harry (Colin Firth) alive, who joins them on their mission.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle was one of my most anticipated movies since I was a big fan of its predecessor and Vaughn stayed committed to the sequel. While The Golden Circle has its moments, Vaughn still commits the biggest sequel sin: he tries too hard to top the first one. The Secret Service is a thrilling spy movie tribute that was an even balance of hardcore violence, political satire, and heart. The Golden Circle has some of its predecessor’s heart and satirical elements, but disappointingly focuses on violence and juvenile humor.

The action is undeniably impressive in The Golden Circle and Vaughn wastes no time throwing us in the middle of it. The opening car chase/fist fight in Eggsy’s cab is a fun, frenetic action sequence; the climactic gun fight at Poppy’s headquarters is a gadget-filled fact-paced spectacle reminiscent of the infamous church scene in The Secret Service (not as good, though).

There were complaints about the level of violence in The Secret Service, but I personally felt the gore was used sparingly and had greater impact; the film still focused on interrogation, covert ops, and surveillance with action thrown in the middle. The Golden Circle uses violence nonstop and there’s almost no spy sequences, save for one that’s a prolonged, offensive rape joke.

It’s great seeing Firth back as Harry; he’s once again a fun, competent action hero. Watching Harry struggle with coordination made his sequences exciting to watch. Egerton is once again likable as the underdog Eggsy. Some viewers will hate that the film focuses on his relationship, but I felt it was refreshing since Eggsy was growing up.

Like Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine, Julianne Moore is a great blend of scary and funny as Poppy. Her plot to control drug distribution is a sharp political commentary on the War on Drugs.

I could have done without most of the Statesman characters. Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum play the American agents, but they’re only on screen for a few minutes each. If you saw the trailers, you saw all of their scenes. On the other hand, the great Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martel from Game of Thrones) is a blast as rogue Statesman, Whiskey.

The Golden Circle excels when it focuses on the Kingsman and their character arcs. Had Vaughn just focused on Harry and Eggsy and kept the new characters and their screen time to a minimum, The Golden Circle could have been as good as its predecessor.

Grade: C+

“Mother!”

The brilliant Darren Aronofsky is obsessed with three topics: religion, obsession, and surrealism. Mother! is a psychotic depiction of the three.

An unnamed couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) live in a countryside rustic mansion. She’s obsessed with remodeling the home while he’s obsessed with overcoming writer’s block. When a series of uninvited guests including a dying man (Ed Harris), his alcoholic wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), their dysfunctional sons (real-life siblings Domhnall and Brian Gleeson), and an unhinged publicist (Kristen Wiig) disrupt their paradise, things escalate to pure insanity.

Mother! is already the year’s most controversial film due to its metaphorical screenplay and gruesome finale. Kudos to Aronofsky for not caring if we love or hate this polarizing film.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Mother! is a surreal commentary on religion and the environment; Lawrence is Mother Nature focused on her paradise while Bardem is God writing a biblical novel. When Bardem’s following disrupts and wrecks their home, Lawrence’s character grows increasingly unstable, symbolizing a disaster.

The film is full of allegories and and the final thirty minutes covers the fall of man and christening of Jesus. If you thought Aronofsky couldn’t top the amputation and “ass-to-ass” sequences in Requiem for a Dream or the transformation sequence in Black Swan, guess again! The climax features burglaries, an orgy, a rave, an armed raid, and the most disturbing cannibalism act put on film. It’s a visceral finale that left me exhausted and nauseous.

As ambitious and transgressive as Mother! is, I wasn’t completely blown away since it’s similar to Aronofsky’s previous works. Lawrence’s character is both insecure and obsessive like Natalie Portman’s Nina in Black Swan. Unlike Black Swan, our Mother! protagonist doesn’t have depth or growth. I felt tired of watching her trying to please everyone and yelling over the destruction of her home.

Bardem, Pfeiffer, and Wiig all have the best on-screen moments. Bardem is charismatic and devilish as our unnamed poet; he’s possibly the film’s most tragic character. Pfeiffer delivers a potential career-reviving performance as a guest that doesn’t understand boundaries. She’s funny, invasive, and slightly terrifying. Wiig only has a few minutes of on-screen time, but shows great range in such little time. She’s funny, quirky, deranged, and homicidal; I hope Wiig gets more horror roles.

I recommend Mother! to the arthouse film lovers and Aronofsky fans. Those expecting a traditional horror film will be disappointed since Mother! is not that at all. Those who are easily squeamish, you better stay away from this one.

Grade: B+

“It”

Bill Skarsgård has reshaped Pennywise the Clown’s image in It. Tim Curry’s performance is now a thing of the past. If you watch It, you’ll float, too!

Set in a small town in Maine (like all of King’s stories), It focuses on a group of kids called the Losers Club. There’s the guilt-ridden stutterer Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), sole female member Bev (Sophia Lillis), wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Jewish Stan (Wyatt Oleff), homeschooled outcast Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer).

They just want to enjoy their summer vacation, but a mysterious clown named Pennywise (Skarsgård) stalks them. They realize Pennywise has been around for years and linked to several children’s disappearances, including Bill’s brother. Can the Losers stop Pennywise and save themselves?

I posted my top five best Stephen King adaptations last month; I need to revise that countdown and include Andy Muschietti’s It on there. Muschietti’s adaptation isn’t just an improvement over the miniseries, but an improvement over the book, as well.

It scraps the novel’s more perverse moments (no child orgy or dog killing here), allowing more focus on the coming-of-age themes. As a result, we get more funny and heartfelt moments from the Losers than expected. Each kid does a terrific job and their chemistry feels natural.

This adaptation also excludes the novel’s second half about the adult Losers, focusing solely on them as kids. I couldn’t be happier with this choice since the kids’ segment is more emotionally satisfying.

Don’t be fooled by my description of It; this is still a no-holds-barred horror film with some terrifying and admirably bold sequences. People will be talking about Pennywise’s introduction scene, but that’s not even the scariest scene. In fact, it’s hard to choose. Skarsgård disappears into Pennywise; there’s nothing funny about his laugh or stare. The makeup work and production design attribute to his menace.

The scariest moments aren’t with Pennywise, but the kids’ hallucinations. Pennywise uses each kid’s phobias to his advantage, causing them to see some gruesome and frightening figures including a demonic woman and a deteriorating man. The effects can appear amateur at times, but on a retro 80’s horror level.

I know my readers are skeptical to watch It and I don’t blame them. If you can handle horror movies and want a rare one with heart and humor, see It this weekend.

Grade: A

Top 5 Worst Stephen King Adaptations

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Welcome back! So, It comes out tonight and leading up to my review, I thought I’d share my top 5 worst Stephen King adaptations. Here we go!

5) Secret Window (2004) – “The most important part is the ending… And this one is perfect.” Not the case in David Koepp’s self-indulgent and predictable thriller. Johnny Depp was good at least.

4) Pet Sematary Two (1992) – Pet Sematary Two isn’t an official adaptation, but it’s an unnecessary sequel. It seems the screenwriter amped up the animal and child deaths while missing the point of its much scarier predecessor.

3) Thinner (1996) – While King is a great writer with some terrific books under his belt, Thinner is one that didn’t need to be adapted. The book centers on a morbidly obese crooked lawyer who’s cursed by a Gypsy to lose weight until he dies. The film adaptation is equally ridiculous and even more disjointed than its source material.

2) Dreamcatcher (2003) – Aliens, psychics, alter egos, a genocidal army general, and an autistic man with the key to saving the world? Talk about unrestrained. The effects are 90’s Sci-Fi Channel-level awful while the dialogue is something out of M. Night Shyamalan’s worst movies.

1) Maximum Overdrive (1986) – Fun fact, King wrote and directed this 80’s crap fest while high on cocaine. It shows! It’s hard to tell what King wanted between a Cold War satire, a 50’s B-movie homage, or a machine gun-fueled Ac/Dc music video. Either way, I don’t even think King knows.

Stay tuned for my review of It.

“Good Time”

The Twilight days are long over for Robert Pattinson. The man is now at chameleon status, disappearing into the role of a blonde sociopath in Good Time.

Connie’s (Pattinson) a lowlife. He lies, cheats, and steals to survive in New York. After his latest heist lands his autistic brother Nick (played by co-director Ben Safdie) in jail, Connie desperately attempts to bail out Nick. He’s ten grand short and most of his loot was ruined by a dye-pack, so now what? Credit card fraud, an amusement park robbery, and selling an acid-laced Sprite bottle sound like a good time.

Ben and Josh Safdie direct Good Time as a fast-paced, neon-drenched heist film. This is a product reminiscent of the 70s New Hollywood and 80s Indie eras. It’s gritty, violent, mesmerizing, and exhausting. It’s also an acquired taste, depending on the viewer’s tolerance of trash cinema.

Good Time begins and ends in Nick’s point of view. His scenes are semi-heartbreaking given he doesn’t understand what’s going on. When Connie interrupts Nick’s therapy appointment, that’s when Good Time is Connie’s show. Pattinson chews up every scene as Connie, whether we root for him or not.

That’s where Good Time suffers. We watch Connie take advantage of his girlfriend’s credit card, make out with a teenage girl, and later sell her out to police. There aren’t any redeeming qualities for Connie as he’s an immoral sociopath. When there is supposed redemption, Connie isn’t there for us to witness it, lacking power.

What Good Time lacks in substance, it makes up in its style. The score is a hypnotic techno score, each shot is filled with color and kinetic energy, and every chase is a thrilling blend of shock and dark humor.

Grade: B+

“Ingrid Goes West”

Aubrey Plaza needs more dramatic work. #Ingridgoeswest.

Plaza plays Instagram stalker, Ingrid. After a stint at a mental hospital, Ingrid becomes obsessed with Instagram model Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) and moves to Los Angeles, stalking Taylor in the process. They become friends (Taylor’s oblivious to Ingrid’s behavior), but what happens when Taylor’s punk brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) enters the picture? Also, who’s really the villain?

Ingrid Goes West starts as a sharp, darkly funny satire. With its jabs at hipster culture and avocado toast, I found a few good laughs. I also was blown away by Plaza’s brave performance as Ingrid. She’s funny, scary, sad, and brutally honest.

Ingrid is a complex character ; an unhinged person who wants what we all want – happiness. Can we blame her for leaving behind her old life for a better one in California? Despite the wrong reasons, no.

Olsen also turns in another great performance this year (check out her work in Wind River). As Taylor, Olsen plays the phony celebrity gracefully. Taylor’s friendship with Ingrid is one-sided and we can see that Taylor only hangs out with her for her own benefit. We root for Ingrid since she’s too delusional to see Taylor’s true colors.

The satirical edge fades in the second half as Ingrid Goes West turns into a standard romantic comedy. Give me less of Ingrid’s relationship with the Batman fanboy Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and more of the psycho thriller/dark comedy moments. Dan starts as a sweet, quirky love interest, but after the millionth Batman Forever reference, I got bored of their romance.

Ingrid Goes West briefly returns to its dark roots in the final act with a strong message on social media and loneliness. It’s just unfortunate that it went off the rails in its uneven second act. Regardless, I still recommend Ingrid Goes West for Plaza and Olsen alone.

Grade: B-

“Wind River”

By the time Taylor Sheridan’s (writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water) Wind River concluded with an informative caption, I was devastated. Sheridan writes and directs a brutal modern-day Western about a subject that needs our attention.

US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds a murdered teenager in the Wind River Indian Reservation. Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is assigned the case and is unprepared for the harsh weather and violence that await. With Lambert’s help, Banner hunts for the killer. Lambert, however, has his own reasons for taking the case.

Wind River has taken the title of 2017’s feel-bad movie (who would have thought Detroit would be dethroned?). I haven’t seen any other film this year that’s either as provocative or visceral as Wind River. Sheridan is on a role with the cynical and grim Westerns.

While Sicario was nihilistic about the war on drugs and Hell or High Water about banks, Wind River isn’t nihilistic. It’s brutally honest about missing Native American women and how there are no statistics. No one knows how many are missing; this is a fact that floored me.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Lambert takes the case as a form of catharsis. His daughter has been missing (and possibly dead) for years and he aids Banner to help exercise his aggression. Lambert doesn’t hold back his rage during the climax, resulting in some shockingly violent moments. Renner delivers a taut performance as Lambert; he’s a likable-yet-troubled cowboy overwhelmed by pain. With one beautifully written monologue about grief, Renner is a guaranteed Best Actor nominee.

Olsen plays Banner with a certain level of innocence. She isn’t afraid to draw her weapon or take charge of the situation, but it’s obvious that this is her first homicide case. This is emphasized in the final act when she breaks down over the case’s grisly outcome.

Wind River is Sheridan’s sophomore directorial effort. While his aesthetics are slightly uneven (using voiceover narration in the prologue and title cards in the epilogue), he is one to keep an eye out for. His poetic screenwriting, dark commentary, and use of violence make him a standout auteur.

Grade: A

“Logan Lucky”

After a four-year absence from filmmaking, I’m happy to see the versatile Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Magic Mike, and the Ocean’s trilogy) return with Logan Lucky. It’s nice to see a lighthearted comedy after two months of dark, violent films.

Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Clyde (Adam Driver), and Mellie Logan (Riley Keough) are a trio of bumbling siblings who believe they’re cursed. Jimmy comes up with a plan to reverse their curse – rob Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600. With the help of incarcerated thief Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), they put their plan in motion.

There’s a line in Logan Lucky’s second act that describes the heist as “Ocean’s 7-11.” This sums up the film in a nutshell. Soderbergh crisply shoots, edits, and directs Logan Lucky, successfully making us root for a group of ne’er-do-wells.

The Logans aren’t the brightest bulbs, but they have good intentions with the heist (mostly family-related). Jimmy keeps a check list on his fridge reminding him important rules for the job, which adds charm and even comes into play during the heist’s surprise conclusion. Tatum, Driver, and Keough all have great chemistry as the Logan siblings, playing their characters with charisma and heart.

Daniel Craig deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination as Joe Bang. He’s cool, enigmatic, and insane in this role, often showing some comedic talents. Bang’s the biggest schemer behind the heist and often provides some hilarious and shocking moments.

It’s suspected that Soderbergh wrote the script for Logan Lucky considering no records or interviews can be found with credited writer, Rebecca Blunt. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case since Soderbergh is an auteur who craves full creative control. And I say give Soderbergh the full creative control since Logan Lucky is a fun, harmless time at the movies.

Grade: A

Top 5 Best Stephen King Adaptations

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Hello! So, in between The Dark Tower and IT, I thought I would share my top 5 best and worst Stephen King adaptations. The Best got the popular vote leading into The Dark Tower, so here we go!

5) Misery (1990) – Kathy Bates’s terrifying performance is enough to watch this disturbing psychological horror flick. Misery is the tale of a fangirl who takes her obsession with an author one step too far.

4) The Dead Zone (1983) – Want to watch a thriller that’s politically relevant? Look up David Cronenberg’s classic supernatural thriller The Dead Zone. It tells the tale of a psychic teacher (a restrained Christopher Walken) who realizes that the popular presidential candidate (a terrifying Martin Sheen) tends to start WWIII.

3) The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece is far different from the novel and that makes it a special gem. Kubrick’s adaptation is superior to King’s work, thanks to haunting imagery and an amazing performance from Jack Nicholson.

2) The Mist (2007) – Which was better? Stephen King’s horror novella with an ambiguous ending, or Frank Darabont’s no-holds-barred adaptation that polarized audiences? I’m going with the adaptation! The Mist is an unsettling film about good versus evil and features the most twisted ending of any horror film.

1) Stand By Me (1986) – I didn’t pick a horror film or The Shawshank Redemption, so sue me! Rob Reiner directed a funny, sad, and nostalgic film about growing up. I watched Stand By Me several times growing up and was touched every time.

That’s it for my top 5 best Stephen King adaptations! What are yours? And stay tuned for reviews of The Dark Tower, IT, and my top 5 worst list coming between this weekend and early September.

“A Ghost Story”

I was relieved when I realized ten minutes into David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” that it wasn’t a remake or ripoff of the Patrick Swayze classic “Ghost.” Wait. I knew that.

I’ll keep the plot synopsis short and sweet; the film is about a ghost that spends eternity observing various residents living in one house. It commits various horror movie tropes like open doors, knock over books, and tamper with lights. But why is it behaving this way? What is the ghost’s purpose?

“A Ghost Story” is an unforgettable cinematic experience. Lowery writes, directs, and produces the film with an extraordinary vision. He explores themes such as life, death, time, love, and attachment with great depth. His narrative and aesthetic choices make him an auteur to watch out for.

The ghost is a person wearing a bed sheet. This is an odd choice that risks being silly, but the eyeholes on the sheet make it expressive. Through its eyes, I can tell the ghost was sad, angry, and curious throughout its journey. The film is also shot on a small ratio of 1:33:1; Lowery confirmed he did this to make the viewer trapped in time. This results in some visceral and hunting moments.

Lowery also takes advantage of the small frame and long takes to draw out specific moments, both heartwarming and tragic. In one standout scene, we’re forced to watch a grieving M (Rooney Mara) stress eat an entire pie in a 5-minute unbroken shot until he vomits. This is one of many moments that is an emotional roller coaster as I felt curious, sad, and then finally nauseous.

The best part of “A Ghost Story” is it debunks the haunted house mythology. Lowery addresses that just because a spirit wreaks havoc in a house, it’s not trying to possess or terrorize a family. It can be angry, confused, and human. I can’t recommend “A Ghost Story” enough.

Grade: A+

“Atomic Blonde”

If any movie hasn’t already claimed action sequence of the year, I think David Leitch’s (“John Wick,” the upcoming “Deadpool” sequel) spy thriller “Atomic Blonde” will. A six-minute-long shot featuring a barbaric fist fight, shootout, and car chase has to be worthy, right?

MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is called to Berlin to obtain a mysterious list. Like most spy movies, this list contains information on undercover agents. She has a buddy cop dynamic with a debauched rock star-like operative, David Percival (James McAvoy) and the two race against time to find the list.

“Atomic Blonde” excels in genre splicing. It has the wide frames, slow pace, and convoluted narrative you’d find in a spy thriller, as well as the neon visuals, brutal violence, and cynical anti-hero found in Neo-Noir. Leitch is somewhat unrestrained in his direction, but “Atomic Blonde” is a blast regardless.

The neon visuals suit the film well due to its setting. “Atomic Blonde” takes place near the end of the Cold War during the collapse of the Berlin Wall, so there’s a strong 80’s aesthetic. Each song is used appropriately (New Order’s “Blue Monday” and George Michael’s “Father Figure”) and we get a brief history lesson on East Berlin. We don’t often see Berlin Wall-related movies, so it’s a refreshing change of setting.

Theron and McAvoy  both deliver fun-yet-committed performances. Between Theron’s stuntwork, dialect, English accent, and expressive moments of silence, she’s the perfect action heroine. Between McAvoy’s charisma, line delivery, and sense of humor, he steals nearly every scene from Theron.

I mentioned “Atomic Blonde” is convoluted and I’m not kidding. By the end, my friend and I were both struggling to figure out the twist ending. Does a spy movie with a cliched list plot need to be this difficult? As I’ve said in past reviews, a confusing ending is enough to warrant a sequel. “Atomic Blonde” is based on a comic book, so it’s bound to happen.

Grade: B

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

I’m pretty sure after watching Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” that Dane DeHaan is the 2010’s Keanu Reeves. But no one can replace Keanu Reeves!

Set in the distant future, the International Space Station has evolved into an extraordinary intergalactic city called Alpha. It’s home to millions of species and called the city of a thousand planets. When secret agents Valerian (DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevinge) are called to Alpha, they uncover a secret that puts Alpha and a mysterious species in grave danger.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the closest we’ll get to a “Fifth Element” sequel since both are quirky sci-fi adventures. Besson is once again kinetic, imaginative, and ambitious; unfortunately, “Thousand Planets” is more on par with the Wachowskis’ 2015 failure, “Jupiter Ascending.”

For a film about space-and-time-traveling agents that encounter various alien species and criminals, Besson’s content focusing on Valerian and Laureline’s awkward romance. It’s not cute, charming, or funny; it’s plain irritating. We spend more time watching Valerian propose to Laureline than we do learning about their agency or their characters.

DeHaan and Delevinge are both miscast in their respective roles. DeHaan spends the movie practicing his best Keanu Reeves impression while Delevinge delivers every line with little-to-no enthusiasm. Their chemistry is nonexistent. Furthermore, the movie is based on a comic called “Valerian and Laureline.” Why is it Laureline is hardly involved in the action and is constantly a damsel-in-distress?

Besson has some innovative sequences, including one that blends “TRON”-style visuals into a 1st-person POV shootout. “Valerian” is a dumb practice of style-over-substance with meta references to Besson’s previous films (keep your ear open for a “Taken” reference). I admire Besson’s ambition, but he should focus on storytelling that isn’t overstuffed with sexism and exposition.

Grade: D+

“Dunkirk”

I’m in the minority with my reaction to Christopher Nolan’s ambitious WWII film, “Dunkirk.” I find myself asking constantly, “Is it Nolan’s masterpiece?”

“Dunkirk” takes place over a week-long period and focuses on the evacuation of the titular beach. In one segment, we have infantry soldiers stranded on the beach (Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles). On the sea, we have a noble civilian sailor Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) leading his son and another boy to rescue soldiers. Finally, from the air, we have an Allied pilot Ferrier (Tom Hardy) attempting to take out Nazi bombers while low on fuel.

Nolan’s no stranger to ambition and is highly ambitious in “Dunkirk.” With a Pg-13-rated, 106-minute-long war film that contains no gore and little dialogue, “Dunkirk” is mildly admirable. However, Nolan’s direction leads the film to some rather underwhelming moments.

The strongest segment of “Dunkirk” is Mr. Dawson’s story. Rylance delivers a terrific performance as a headstrong sailor that isn’t afraid of battle. He wants to save as many soldiers possible since men his age are starting war. Cillian Murphy is also great in this segment as an unnamed soldier who shows signs of PTSD. This sequence hauntingly demonstrates the psychological horrors and nobility in war.

The land sequences with Whitehead and Styles’s characters feature some stunning imagery and harrowing sequences. In one sequence where they nearly drown on a sinking ship, I white-knuckled the arm rests of my chair. The two characters find themselves in several brutal scenarios and have to make tough decisions. Unfortunately, I got bored after a while due to lack of character development. Neither character has any background or arc, so it’s hard to remain invested.

Finally, the air sequences were some of the most amazing air sequences put on film. Nolan uses actual planes instead of CG and each aerial shot is mesmerizing. This segment’s narrative is repetitive since Hardy spends most of it silently noting his fuel capacity. He also spends most of his time behind a mask. Why is he always playing masked characters?

I can see “Dunkirk” being nominated for Best Picture and Best Director among other Oscars. It’s an Oscar-bait movie and I know critics will endorse “Dunkirk” for the awards. I get it, but unlike the critics, I don’t consider “Dunkirk” to be Nolan’s masterpiece.

Grade: B

“Wish Upon”

I’m excited writing this review! Why? Because “Wish Upon” might be the best bad movie since “The Room.”

Clare (Joey King) is an unpopular high school girl with a dumpster-diving father (Ryan Phillippe) and two quirky friends June and Meredith (Shannon Purser and Sydney Park). When Clare inherits a mysterious Ancient Chinese wish box, she wishes for popularity, money, a new boyfriend, and her enemy to rot. The wishes come true, but why hasn’t Clare connected the deaths of her dog and family members to these granted wishes?

HUGE SPOILER ALERT!!!

“Wish Upon” is marketed as a serious horror movie, but there isn’t a single scary or tense moment. It’s unintentionally funny, stupid, and appears unfinished. There are blurry aerial shots misplaced throughout the movie, a random exposition scene featuring Jerry O’Connell, and obvious plot holes that left me asking myself, “Was this the final cut?”

The plot holes are persistent throughout. If Clare can’t simply open the box without making a wish, then how is one of her friends able to open it later to translate the message? When Clare wishes to be popular, why are her only two friends not affected by this wish?

We also have some of the most spoiled and insane teenagers in film history. It’s not offensive, but hilarious because there’s no way a kid would snap a photo of their friend’s rotting face and post it on Instagram. There’s no way that kids would constantly take advantage of a friend’s newfound wealth and get away with it. This is a sequence that acts as part Instagram porn, part MTV reality show as we watch friends buy overly priced purses and snap photos of their cupcakes.

After five selfish wishes and seeing the consequences, Clare still thinks it’s a good idea to keep the box and make more wishes. She still thinks her dad being less of an embarrassment is worth the loss of her aunt and love interest’s cousin. I found myself wondering what Clare’s SAT score was.

There’s also a subplot where Clare’s boyfriend becomes a psycho stalker thanks to a backfired wish. It’s meant to be disturbing, but is hilarious thanks to cheesy lines like, “You’re so beautiful when you’re asleep.” This subplot lasts for three minutes and isn’t mentioned again for the rest of the movie.

I couldn’t get over how amazingly bad “Wish Upon” is. Yes, I hated it, but I’m still obligated to buy it for my occasional bad horror movie nights.

Grade: F

The 2017 Half-Time Report

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Hey, guys! First off, I want to say thank you for a great year and supporting Donttalkaboutmovies. This year has been an exciting year in film and you guys motivate me to keep watching movies! On that note, I want to give you guys the half-time report! This is a quick summary of my favorite (and least favorite) movies are so far this year.

In the Action/Adventure category, I was blown away by Edgar Wright’s jukebox musical heist thriller, Baby Driver. This is a candy-colored adrenaline rush that’s music to my ears and better on the second viewing. On the other hand, you can skip King Arthur: Legend of the Sword because it’s quite obvious Guy Ritchie has lost his way.

The Comedy genre has been lacking this year with lackluster films like Rough Night and Sandy Wexler; nonetheless, The Big Sick is a terrific comedy that hits all the right notes as a comedy, romance, drama, and social commentary film.

For the Horror genre, Get Out is king of 2017’s horror roster thus far. Writer/director Jordan Peele has crafted a funny, scary, and provocative horror film about racism. You can skip The Void, Unforgettable, The Belko Experiment, and The Mummy because those were all duds.

The Superhero genre has been booming lately and I can personally recommend Logan, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Each movie is great in their own way, but definitely keep Logan away from younger viewers.

The Science Fiction/Fantasy category has been a tad underwhelming, but the Anne Hathaway-helmed Colossal blew my expectations out of the water. If you want a quirky genre movie that explores characters and darker themes, this one’s for you!

I have been slacking in the Drama category this year, but I still found Danny Boyle’s long-waited T2: Trainspotting to be a fun and stylish sequel about nostalgia.

In terms of animation, I’m still telling people to watch the anime film Your Name. I saw this on a whim and don’t regret it, thanks to its beautiful animation and mind-bending narrative.

Thanks for reading! What are your favorite films you’ve seen so far this year?

“Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Spider-Man…. Spider-Man…. Does what “The Amazing Spider-Man” can’t! That’s right, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a return to form for the iconic Marvel character.

The self-aware titled “Spider-Man: Homecoming” takes place eight months after Peter Parker (Tom Holland) was introduced in “Civil War.” Since then, he’s hungry for more action. He’s flaking on his friends and beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he’s dropped out of various clubs, and he’s beyond high school.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) takes on a father-figure role to Peter and wants him to be patient and focus on being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Peter ignores his advice when he crosses paths with a heavily armed thief called The Vulture (Michael Keaton); their battles cause Peter to learn some valuable lessons the hard way.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a lighthearted and fun MCU movie that’s more a coming-of-age tale than standard origin story. Director Jon Watts (the solid B-movie “Cop Car”) gives Spidey the John Hughes treatment. Peter loves being Spider-Man, but often has to choose between his superhero addiction and being a kid. This sets up some comedic and dramatic moments for Peter.

The 21-year-old Holland does an amazing job playing Peter. He isn’t brooding like Maguire or arrogant like Garfield; he perfectly captures the angst, excitement, ambition, and recklessness of being a teen. Keaton and Downey both are great in their respective supporting roles. Keaton makes a menacing-albeit-sympathetic villain while Downey portrays Stark in a more humanized fashion.

The Vulture and Stark play important roles in teaching the naïve Parker the harsh ways of the world and are perfect foils to each other, despite no screen time together. “Homecoming” excels in fleshing out each character and making them grounded and empathetic. Though I was rooting for Spider-Man, I also wanted The Vulture to win occasionally.

“Homecoming” isn’t perfect due to a redundant narrative. Throughout the whole movie, Peter tends an event, conveniently notices The Vulture in action nearby, apologizes to his friends, ditches them, fights the baddy, then apologizes again. I would have preferred each action sequence setting up confrontation differently.

The redundant narrative is forgivable due to the performances and a couple of harrowing action sequences that capture both Spider-Man’s noble and destructive nature. He isn’t destructive like Zack Snyder’s Superman  and not take responsibility; he’s a powerful kid who doesn’t realize that his actions have consequences. “Homecoming” is a fun time and I’m looking forward to Spider-Man’s return in 2019.

Grade: B+

Ranking of all “Spider-Man” movies favorite-to-least:

  1. “Spider-Man 2” (2004)
  2. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)
  3. “Spider-Man” (2002)
  4. “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012)
  5. “Spider-Man 3” (2007)
  6. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014)

“Baby Driver”

For those who think “Baby Driver” is a “Drive” rip off, I respectfully say you’re wrong. “Baby Driver” has more in common with “Reservoir Dogs,” “Point Break,” “Heat,” “The Town,” “The Driver,” “The Blues Brothers,” and “La La Land.” I don’t normally call movies cool, but “Baby Driver” is pretty damn cool.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, who’s the best in the business. He’s a reluctant accomplice who focuses more on his music during robberies than watching his accomplices. Doc (Kevin Spacey) promises him that they’re square after one more job, but what happens when Doc interferes in Baby’s reformed life and romance with the sweet Debora (Lily James)? A frenetic and unpredictable series of robberies, shootouts, chases backed by a killer playlist!

“Baby Driver” is Edgar Wright’s fifth film and he once again demonstrates his auteurship by splicing musical numbers with action sequences. Whether Wright perfectly edits and paces the opening chase sequences to match they rhythm of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms,” or he choreographs gunfire to stay on tempo with Focus’s “Hocus Pocus,” “Baby Driver” is an innovative piece of action filmmaking.

It’s not just the action sequences that are worth watching. There are romantic jukebox musical moments of Baby and Debora rocking out to T. Rex, bromantic moments of Baby and Buddy (Jon Hamm) rocking out to Queen, and one amazing long take of Baby dancing and singing along to “Harlem Shake.” Wright hits all the right notes with his song choices.

Elgort delivers a quiet, expressive, and physically demanding performance as Baby. He’s a well-rounded and empathetic protagonist. All Baby wants to do is enjoy his music and spend time with Debora, but he’s trapped. In the last thirty minutes of the film, Baby turns into an unpredictable force of nature and Elgort displays impressive stunt work and facial expressions in his performance, putting him on par with Ryan Gosling and Tom Hardy.

The supporting cast excels with Spacey, Hamm, and Jamie Foxx as charismatic psychos with surprising depth. Doc is hyped as the main antagonist in the first act, but he’s later humanized and shows surprising concern for Baby. Buddy wants to be everyone’s buddy, but he later turns into a homicidal maniac; Hamm is quite versatile in his performance. Foxx is a scene stealer as the self-proclaimed crazy Bats. Bats is chaotic evil and causes all sorts of problems for the group, but he also acts as a mentor figure to Baby.

Each character in this film acts as a family member to Baby. Doc is Baby’s father figure, Baby, Bats, and Darling (Elsa Gonzalez) are Baby’s dysfunctional siblings. Baby seeks salvation in Debora and she’s the one innocent character. Don’t be fooled! She’s not a damsel-in-distress and makes a great foil to Baby. I loved this narrative because it balances style and substance evenly.

Wright is on fire with “Baby Driver;” he not only has made the best film so far this year or summer, but he’s quite possibly made the best film of his career. I’ve seen it twice now and wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

Grade: A+

 

 

The Classics – “The Cornetto Trilogy”

Welcome back to The Classics! Last time, I reviewed “John Wick” prior to “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Now I’m going to talk about Edgar Wright’s brilliant “Cornetto Trilogy,” leading up to “Baby Driver.”

The trilogy consists of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” and “The World’s End.” All three are buddy comedies spliced with different genres, resulting in three hilarious, wonderful love letters to film.

HUGE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL THREE MOVIES!!!

“Shaun of the Dead”

Part zombie horror film and part romantic comedy, “Shaun of the Dead” stars Simon Pegg as the 29-year-old slacker Shaun. He’s pushed by his overbearing stepdad Philip (Bill Nighy) and his sweet girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) to take life more seriously, though he would rather play video games with his unemployed best friend Ed (Nick Frost). Things grow worse for Shaun when he finds zombies in his garden, forcing him, Ed, Liz, and their friends to hide in their favorite pub during the zombie breakout.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a brilliant tribute to the zombie genre. Billed as “a romantic comedy with zombies,” the film is exactly that. It’s more about Shaun and Liz trying to reconcile their differences following their breakup. Of course, you have the overbearing parents, an antagonistic romantic rival, and the best friend comic relief. Edgar Wright shows restraint with these characters and they’re depicted as people.

Wright also builds up the zombie scenes with genius subtlety. In the opening act, we see Shaun go through his daily routine. He picks up a soda from a local supermarket, rides the bus to work, heads home, then to the Winchester Pub. As his day progresses, we see some sick people on the bus and brief news reports on background TV’s, and finally a zombie attack outside the Winchester. Wright chooses to feature all of this in the background, forcing the viewers to pay close attention.

Shaun and Ed are unlikely heroes; they want to save everyone, but exacerbate the situation as the movie progresses (there’s even an ongoing joke with the word “exacerbate” and it suits them well). After rewatching the movie, I feel the darkest part was the ending because had Shaun and Ed remained home and waited for the military, everyone would have still been alive.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a terrific horror comedy because of the Easter eggs. Shaun and Ed’s roommate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) blames Ed for leaving the front door open; however, I recently noticed that Shaun was the one leaving the door open.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a horror comedy that appeals to most movie goers. I have family members and friends who hate both horror movies and violent movies, but they adore “Shaun of the Dead.” After rewatching this, I’m considering revising my top 10 favorite films list.

Grade: A+

“Hot Fuzz”

Highly decorated police officer Nicolas Angel (Simon Pegg) constantly humiliates his department with his high arrest records, resulting in his transfer to the seemingly perfect village, Sanford. He’s bored with the small town life until a series of gory accidents occur; this leads to a bromantic partnership between Angel and fellow officer Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) and an explosive shoot-em-up climax.

“Hot Fuzz” is more energetic and fast-paced than “Shaun of the Dead;” Blink and you’ll miss the sharpest joke and visual gags. “Hot Fuzz” is an effective satire on not only action films, but small town culture. Sanford has a “Twin Peaks” vibe in the sense it’s a seemingly peaceful and quiet town with something sinister.

The twist behind the neighborhood watch killing embarrassing residents is both funny and terrifying. It’s funny since they killed a writer for misspelling their name and disturbing since they’re gaslighting gullible Sanford residents.

Pegg and Frost once again have terrific chemistry as Angel and Danny. Frost is once again the goofy manchild, but he has more heart in “Hot Fuzz” than “Shaun of the Dead.” Pegg pulls off some surprisingly impressive stunt work and action star charisma; why in the hell isn’t he doing more action movies?

Wright shows versatility with his direction in “Hot Fuzz,” directing action scenes with great panache and energy. I was impressed by him using Michael Bay’s cinematographic trademarks and outclassing Bay (not that that’s hard to do). The climax is twenty minutes of firing dual pistols, high speed chases, knife throwing, missile kicking, and grisly uses of steeples and bear traps.

“Hot Fuzz” is another one that gets better every time I watch it. If I had one nit-pick, it’s that Wright’s use of violence is uneven. All gore effects are innovative and insane, but in the first half, it’s easy to mistaken “Hot Fuzz” as a slasher movie. “Hot Fuzz” doesn’t feel like an action movie until the climax. Nonetheless, “Hot Fuzz” is still a total blast.

Grade: A

“The World’s End”

In the most mature installment, alcoholic Gary King (Simon Pegg) lives in the past and manipulates his old high school friends Andrew Knightley (Nick Frost), Oliver “O-Man” Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) into joining him on an epic pub crawl in their hometown. They have to visit 12 bars and drink 12 pints until they reach The World’s End. Except they don’t remember a robot army inhabiting their hometown.

“The World’s End” is the trilogy’s most experimental installment and it polarized fans upon release. It’s experimental in Pegg and Frost switching roles with Pegg playing the hot mess and Frost the straight man. The film’s narrative structure is clever with an opening flashback that foreshadows the rest of the film. While “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz’s” humor were primarily visual and physical humor, “The World’s End” relies mostly on witty dialogue and fast-paced conversation.

The first act is a slow start, allowing us to get to know Gary and his friends. We see that Gary is the only one who hasn’t gotten his life together while his friends feel sorry for him and instantly regret joining him. That doesn’t mean there’s no shortage of humor (pay attention to a reoccurring joke about selective memory).

The second act is a wild blend of well-choreographed fight scenes, some eerie horror moments reminiscent of “Body Snatchers,” and hilarious drinking sequences that show both the fun and dark sides of drinking. Gary is an alcoholic and has a good time drinking and fighting robots while his friends resent him for it (Gary is the one who exacerbated the situation).

The final act escalates to a frenetic combination of humor, depression, and catastrophe. It’s not a physical climax like the previous films, but entirely verbal as Gary, Andy, and Steven challenge The Network (Bill Nighy) to an epic debate about human nature and free will. It’s an insightful, vulgar, and highly quotable scene (I’ve jokingly yelled, “Fuck off, you big lamp” at bright lights ever since).

Fans are divided on the closing scene, which depicts the world in a post-apocalyptic state and Gary is now a sword-wielding warrior repeating the Golden Mile. I loved this ending personally because even though the world is a living hell, Gary still has a good time. Plus he’s now sober and has come to terms with his demons, so he wins in the end.

I loved “The World’s End” for its darker tone and chances it took. I’m going to rank it as superior to “Hot Fuzz.”

Grade: A+

Thanks for taking the time to read the review of my favorite movie trilogy. Stay tuned for my review of “Baby Driver!”

“Rough Night”

What do “Bridesmaids,” “The Hangover,” “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and “Very Bad Things” all have in common? The new dark comedy “Rough Night” pays homage to all of them… Maybe a little too much.

The engaged and overworked Jess (Scarlett Johansson) reluctantly goes to Miami when her estranged friends host her bachelorette party. We’re then introduced to the eccentric Australian native Pippa (Kate McKinnon), overly dependent Alice (Jillian Bell), social justice warrior Frankie (Illana Glazer), and wealthy single mom Blair (Zoe Kravitz).

The party begins as a cliched party we’ve seen several times as characters snort coke, get drunk, and have a botched dance number. When they head home and order a stripper, things escalate to a dark level after Alice accidentally kills the stripper in morbid fashion. What now?!

“Rough Night” didn’t have the best trailer and I only saw it to get out of the house. “Rough Night” consists of a standard first act, hilarious second act, and an implausible final act. It benefits thanks to the cast’s performances. At least it’s better than the trailer.

Johansson has surprisingly sharp comedic delivery (I want to say it’s her first comedy) as the straight-faced Jess. Her deadpan delivery matches McKinnon and Bell’s absurd banters. McKinnon steals every scene with her impeccable improvising and perfectly timed expressions. Bell, Kravitz, and Glazer were hit and miss for me, but when they hit, I laughed hard.

Demi Moore and Ty Burrell steal one scene as married swingers trying to seduce the protagonists. It begins as a typical crude sexual situation, becomes uncomfortable, then ends in a darkly funny punch line.

The writers take the greatest chances in the second act. Whether we’re watching a character hustle meth for gas money, characters hide a dead body on a swing, or take a pizza break after cleaning their crime scene, I was impressed with how far “Rough Night” went.

END SPOILERS!!!

The final act kills the movie with its implausible and disappointing ending. The characters walk free thanks to a good Samaritan law that likely exists for movie logic. I would have preferred the writers to keep their mean streak and have the characters’ fates go a darker direction, but most movie-goers prefer the happy ending.

Despite the disappointing conclusion, I’m happy to see a comedy take chances. Especially considering I’m still getting over “Baywatch.”

Grade: C+

“The Mummy”

Studios are banking off of the MCU with their own movie universes. First, Warner Bros started the DCEU and then the Monster Universe shortly after. Now Universal has started the Dark Universe with “The Mummy” as their first installment. I’ll stick to the 1999 Brendan Fraser version, thank you.

U.S. Military officer Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), his partner Chris (Jake Johnson), and archeologist Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) discover a secret tomb in Iraq. When they bring the mummified corpse of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) back with them, they unintentionally unleash hell on earth as Ahmanet comes to life and goes on a rampage. Nick, however, discovers he might be the only thing that can stop Ahmanet.

I’m a Tom Cruise fan and was intrigued after learning he was starring in “The Mummy.” Partially because it’s his first horror film (if you can call it horror) and partially because I wanted to see what death-defying stunt Cruise was going to perform next. Aside from a terrific plane crash sequence and an insane bus stunt, the action is lackluster.

“The Mummy” is 107 minutes of Tom Cruise running and screaming, Jake Johnson yelling, “I’m gonna die,” Russell Crowe delivering exposition-fueled monologues, and Annabelle Wallis playing damsel-in-distress. This results in a rather dull summer movie. I wanted to like “The Mummy,” but I found it underwhelming.

Sofia Boutella is a talented actress, but she’s underused in her role as Ahmanet. She isn’t terrifying or menacing (Arnold Vosloo is superior in the 1999 “Mummy”) and has little to do, despite wearing wicked makeup. In terms of villains, Crowe’s Henry Jekyll steals a few scenes.

Watching Cruise and Crowe banter is one of the movie’s few treats. Cruise’s boyish charm perfectly matches Crowe’s stern, deadpan delivery. They both are clearly trying and easily carry the movie, despite the weak script.

The script suffers from some serious tone inconsistencies. We get some darkly hilarious hallucination sequences reminiscent of “An American Werewolf in London,” but they don’t mash well with lame jump scares or the movie’s adventure tone. Also, it’s insulting that the movie’s six screenwriters don’t trust the viewers enough to figure things out for themselves.

“I drove back to her,” Cruise says as he obviously drives back to Boutella, attempting a getaway.

I’m a fan of the classic Universal monsters, but this is a disappointing start. Hopefully they find their footing in future installments.

Grade: C-

“It Comes at Night”

The apocalyptic horror genre is one of my favorites because it raises moral questions about survival. How far will you go to survive? Can you trust anyone? Can you live with killing someone? “It Comes at Night” asks these questions and the answer from watching this is no. “It Comes at Night” is the most haunting film I’ve seen this year.

An unknown plague has wiped out most of civilization. A family of three lives in a secluded mansion in the woods and consists of father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and teenaged son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). They offer shelter to a mysterious man named Will (Christopher Abbott) and his wife Kim (Riley Keough) after a brief violent confrontation.

Rules are established, but the two most important ones are don’t go out at night and leave the red door locked at all times. Will someone break the rules? Can Paul trust Will? Why does Travis wonder the house at night?

“It Comes at Night” is an unconventional apocalyptic horror film. Yes, there are gas masks, a nasty human virus, and barbaric standoffs. But there isn’t a known source of the virus, zombies, or a soldier with a false promise. That’s where writer/director Trey Edward Shults excels is his focus on the characters and minimal setting.

The characters stay within the home or its grounds. When they’re together, they have brief conversations and little is known about them, leaving the viewer to analyze them. The ruthless Paul is a former history teacher, so he was likely civilized prior to the virus. Will had various odd jobs before the outbreak and relocated several times during, so he struggles to protect his family.

“It Comes at Night” is told primarily through Travis’s point of view. He witnesses Paul’s survival instincts and realizes he may have to take drastic measures to survive. He has a series of nightmares that risk being cliched, but are ultimately used to reflect Travis’s emotions or foreshadow what’s to come. They’re refreshingly chilling sequences.

“It Comes at Night” will likely polarize audiences since some viewers will love its artistic take on horror while others will compare it unfavorably to “The Walking Dead.” I personally am on board and can’t stop thinking about this masterful study of human nature.

Grade: A

“Wonder Woman”

The DCEU has finally gotten their act together! After their three consecutive misfires (“Man of Steel,” “Batman vs. Superman,” and “Suicide Squad”), they’ve redeemed themselves with “Wonder Woman.”

Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) grows up training to fight Ares, the God of War. She’s trained by her fierce aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) until one day a soldier named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) appears on their beach, informing them of World War I. Diana agrees to help Steve stop a powerful enemy, under the assumption it will end all war. But will it?

“Wonder Woman” is the first DC film since the original “Superman” that paints heroism in a positive light. Diana doesn’t bomb buildings like in Tim Burton’s “Batman” or recklessly destroy buildings and kill thousands of people in a fight like “Man of Steel.” She fights, kills only when provoked, and she saves people (did Superman save anyone in “Man of Steel?”).

Diana’s flaw is often highlighted in key scenes where she has to decide between saving someone in front of her or pursuing the greater evil and save thousands of lives. This sets up some emotionally investing conflicts as she learns the hard way that she can’t save everyone; even if she wins a battle.

Gal Gadot is charismatic as the lead heroine; despite showing off impressive stunt work, I was more impressed with her emotional moments. It’s sweet watching her discover small joys such as babies or ice cream. It’s funny to see her match an outfit with her battle gear. It’s sad watching her mourn the loss of loved ones in battle and learning war has consequences.

Chris Pine brings boyish charm as the sly Trevor. He acts as Diana’s mentor, partner, and lover. I was more invested in their mentor-protege and buddy cop relationships rather than the actual romance. The romance between them is forced, but not annoying.

The main villains could have also used some more development and originality since they are cliched mad scientists; however, “Wonder Woman” is about the hero and not the villain, so I’ll let it pass.

Director Patty Jenkins also pulls off something few indie directors have accomplished: transition from a low-budget film to a big blockbuster and direct both competently. Each action sequence looks like an expressionist painting and are strengthened by Jenkins’s exceptional use of slow motion (a style I’ve resented in recent years).

“Wonder Woman” is arguably the best film so far this summer. And when that guitar solo kicks in during action sequences, it will likely have you quietly saying, “Yes,” like it did for me.

Grade: A-

“Baywatch”

I need to stop seeing movies just because they have Dwayne Johnson. Who am I kidding? He’s he most electrifying man in entertainment after all (WWE joke). He’s too good for “Baywatch” and this movie is just another studio cash grab.

Veteran lifeguard Mitch Buchannon (Johnson) recruits a new batch of guards to join his team. This includes the tough Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), socially awkward Ronnie (Jon Bass), and the cocky former Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron). Mitch and Brody automatically dislike each other in buddy comedy fashion, but have to put their differences aside when they discover drugs are surfacing on the beach.

People laughed at me when I said I was seeing “Baywatch.” Besides seeing it for Johnson, I actually saw potential in this movie. The original show was a cheese fest and could easily spawn a satirical adaptation ala “21 Jump Street.” Sadly, “Baywatch” isn’t that adaptation.

“Baywatch” is directed by Seth Gordon, who made the brilliant transgressive comedy “Horrible Bosses.” “Baywatch” is rated R like “Horrible Bosses,” but Gordon and the writers do nothing with it other than show a penis and spout a few dozen F-words. It’s not transgressive, offensive, meta, and worst of all, not funny.

Johnson and Efron have good chemistry, and they’re clearly doing their best to entertain the viewers, but it’s sadly not enough to overcome the long length time, redundant narrative, and overly serious tone. Do we need a tortured soul subplot in the middle of a vomit gag?

“Baywatch” is two hours of Mitch lecturing Brody on his selfishness and calling him a boy band name, then Brody admitting he screwed up and redeeming himself. Brody’s back story of puking during a team swim meet is sad and pathetic instead of funny.

How many comedies do we need with a dead body gag? How many do we need with a guy getting his junk stuck in public? How many do we need with someone clumsily falling into a pool with their clothes on? There’s already a “Baywatch” sequel in the works, so is there room for improvement? Yes. Will it improve? Probably not.

Grade: D-

“Alien: Covenant”

There is some optimism in the gory nightmarish prequel “Alien: Covenant.” Since this takes place before “Alien” and has dumber characters, at least I know humanity gets smarter in the future.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON!

The Covenant is a ship searching for new life. Its crew includes the tough-minded Daniels (Katherine Waterson), wisecracking cowboy Tennesse (Danny McBride), an insecure man of faith Oram (Billy Crudup), and the android synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender). Along their way to inhabit a new planet, they discover a distress beacon at a closer planet.

Upon arrival, the place appears to be a heaven, but the crew learns it’s more of a hell when they encounter xenomorphs and the “Prometheus” synthetic David (Michael Fassbender).

The great Ridley Scott maintains the philosophical tone of “Prometheus” while paying homage to the original “Alien.” It’s a dark, gory space odyssey with intelligent androids and dimwitted humans. Scott directs each blood splatter and surreal image with beauty.

“Covenant” spends the first two acts exploring darker themes and building each character. We get a platonic friendship between the widowed Daniels and Tennessee, Daniels and Oram clashing over the mission, and Walter learning from everyone.

Fassbender delivers a brilliant dual-performance as Walter and David. Scott directs each of their interactions with long takes and tight frames to depict the androids’ homoerotic bond. David is more villainous than ever and acts as a demonic egomaniac.

The writers brilliantly address a thought on the “Alien” franchise I’ve had: why don’t the xenomorphs and androids interact with each other? We get scenes with the two together and the xenomorphs are indifferent. In one fascinating scene, David communicates with a new alien like its his own child. “You have to show respect,” he says.

Sadly, the horror sequences and characters are underwhelming, save for one terrifying lab scene halfway through. The aliens decapitate, chest burst, spine burst, impale, and rip apart the crew, but since each character thinks splitting up is smart, these sequences are predictable and boring.

The climax could have used a little more work because it feels too easy and convenient; its obvious twist briefly saves the ending due to atmosphere and the casts’ performance. And what’s with James Franco’s obscure cameo? Can we have smarter characters and more James Franco next time?

Grade: B+

 

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

For a hero as epic and legendary as King Arthur, constantly using montages makes him rather underwhelming. Writer/director Guy Ritchie seems content with that in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.”

If you’ve seen “Hamlet,” “The Lion King,” “Sons of Anarchy,” or “Man of Steel,” you already know the plot of “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is the son of a deceased king and must fight his tyrannical uncle (Jude Law) for the throne. With Excalibur and some loyal sidekicks, he discovers his full potential.

Guy Ritchie is a talented, energetic director who’s known for witty dialogue and energetic montages. Given most of the dialogue is exposition and the montages are redundant, “Legend of the Sword” is neither as witty or energetic as Ritchie’s previous works. It’s a mess!

“Legend of the Sword” is rated PG-13; however, the choppy editing clearly shows Ritchie wanted to make an R-rated movie. Each kill cuts away to another angle or to a completely different scene, making me wonder if there’s an R-rated director’s cut coming to Blu-Ray.

Ritchie’s screenplay, unfortunately, isn’t any better. It’s generic and disjointed; “Legend of the Sword” can’t decide if it wants to be an epic fantasy or a witty medieval-themed heist movie. Ritchie also seems a little too comfortable writing female characters to be imprisoned, tortured, beaten, and sacrificed on a regular basis.

As mentioned, there are sequences where Ritchie could have explored certain myths or done some world building. In one particular sequence, Arthur has to fight several creatures in a place called the Blacklands to train with Excalibur. Ritchie condenses this potentially exciting sequence into a lackluster montage without any drama or spectacle.

Charlie Hunnam is a competent protagonist, but his portrayal of Arthur is strongly reminiscent of his work in “Sons of Anarchy.” He’s having fun and there are times where he saves the scene with his charisma. Hopefully, he receives a better script to work with in the future.

Grade: D

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

I am Groot… I am Groot…  I am impressed with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” It’s the first MCU sequel done right since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

After completing another successful mission, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) meet the enigmatic Ego (Kurt Russell). He helps the group and reveals himself to be Peter’s dad, shocking the group.

Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) return to settle their scores, Peter and Gamora must deal with their feelings, Rocket Raccoon comes to terms with who he is, and Baby Groot dances adorably.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” maintains its predecessor’s energy, colorful effects, kinetic action sequences, and killer soundtrack. It takes the humor and character moments up a few notches, resulting in a surprisingly hilarious and emotional sequel. If “Vol. 1” is “A New Hope,” then “Vol. 2” is “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Without getting too much into the plot, the Guardians split into two groups where alliances form, betrayals occur, and revelations are revealed. Quill spends a portion of the movie torn between family and his destiny; it’s bittersweet and sometimes heartbreaking.

“Vol. 2” is fun, though! Don’t let my description fool you. The standout sequences are a delightful opening credits sequence, a space ship battle that’s an obvious nod to the arcade gaming era, and any scene involving Yondu (Rooker kills it).

The cast is once again great with their chemistry and comedic timing; they’re even better in their dramatic moments. Kurt Russell’s performance is a little too exposition-heavy, but his charm and charisma make it acceptable.

I could have done without Sylvester Stallone as Stakar Ogord. He literally has two minutes of screen time, angrily delivers exposition about Yondu, and leaves until the end. For a hyped character, I expected more for Sly to do.

The MCU has a bad history with sequels, but “Vol. 2” proves you don’t have to one-up all elements for a sequel; it’s okay to slow down and expand on the characters’ back story. You don’t see that in a superhero film often, which is admirable.

Grade: A-

“Unforgettable”

The stalker film is dead. After “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,” “Unlawful Entry,” “The Gift,” “The Loft,” “Mother’s Boys,” “Fear,” “When the Bough Breaks,” “Fatal Attraction,” and now “Unforgettable,” can we agree it’s time to call it quits? Especially since “Unforgettable” rips off several of the titles mentioned above?

Successful blogger Julia (Rosario Dawson) gets engaged to the handsome David (Geoff Stults), but they both have baggage. Julia has an abusive ex she hasn’t told David about. David’s ex, Tessa (a surprisingly solid Katherine Heigl) isn’t over David and wants to ruin Julia’s life. If you’ve seen any of the movies I mentioned earlier, you can guess what happens next.

I don’t know what prompted Dawson and Heigl to star in “Unforgettable,” but they look as miserable as their characters throughout this unforgettable trash. The only times they seem to enjoy themselves are when they’re drinking (I’m almost positive that’s actual alcohol).

I’ll give props to Heigl. I’m not a fan, but she provides a few chilling moments. It’s not enough to make up for the film’s generic, unsubtle, unimaginative, illogical, and sexist screenplay.

The best psycho thrillers start subtle and slowly reveal the character’s sinister traits. I liked Gordo in “The Gift,” Pete in “Unlawful Entry,” Jude in “Mother’s Boys,” David in “Fear”, and Alex in “Fatal Attraction” upon introduction because they were restrained. There’s no subtlety in Tessa’s introduction and we know right away she’s nuts!

“Unforgettable” borrows heavily from the films mentioned earlier. Whether it’s a steamy public sex scene (“Fear”), Julia receiving an anonymous gift on the porch (“The Gift”), or Tessa kicking someone out of her car after having sex (“Unlawful Entry”), the writers seem content writing a serious of homages to superior thrillers.

As far as logic goes, “Unforgettable” has zilch. How can someone have a fancy house, but can’t afford to pay their lawyer? Why are people so casual about Tessa’s controlling, abusive behavior? Why do most conversations revolve around men and how good they are in bed?

We’re also treated to an unwanted cliffhanger that will set up a sequel. SPOILER ALERT – the sequel (if it gets made at all) will have Tessa’s overbearing mother (Cheryl Ladd) as the villain. But why?! “Unforgettable” would have passed as a character study of a broken, unstable anti-hero; not the millionth psycho stalker movie.

Grade: D-

“Colossal”

Self-destructive behavior is toxic and harmful to others. Especially when you’re self-destructive and control a Kaiju. Wait, what?

“Colossal” stars Anne Hathaway as Gloria. She’s an unemployed alcoholic who’s boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) dumps her. She returns to her hometown and befriends bar owner Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and his pals Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson), indulging in several binders.

Meanwhile, a Kaiju surfaces and attacks South Korea. Gloria’s further alarmed when she discovers she’s the one who controls this creature and has to right her wrongs. Oscar and Tim both stand in her way, creating humor and tension.

“Colossal” was advertised as a sci-fi comedy, but don’t be fooled. This is NOT a comedy, but a character study. Gloria’s drinking and selfish behavior hurt Tim and Oscar while her creature moments devastate a whole country. The creature is a metaphor for self-loathing; who knew a giant monster movie could have such strong social commentary?

Oscar and Tim aren’t saints either. Oscar depends on Gloria and controls her, making himself feel better. Tim, on the other hand, critiques Gloria for her behavior but condescends her choices she makes in pulling herself together. He clearly has high expectations of her that aren’t met.

Hathaway plays Gloria gracefully, heightening the character’s flaws and noble intentions with humor and emotion. Sudeikis delivers one of his best performances as Oscar. He’s pathetic and abusive, but also tragic and occasionally funny (he steals one scene with fireworks and a monologue about irresponsibility). That’s not easy to accomplish.

Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo transitions “Colossal” between several genres smoothly without force. The creature effects are impressive on a small budget and even the dramatic moments are shot like a monster movie. Audiences will be divided over “Colossal” because some viewers will praise it for its depth and others will criticize it for being misleading. All I say is give “Colossal” a chance.

Grade: A

“The Void”

Props to indie filmmakers Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie for designing some horrifying and innovative creatures via Kickstarter in “The Void.” They have a bright future as genre filmmakers, even if this body horror flick doesn’t meet its potential.

Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) takes a drug addict to the closest hospital. His estranged wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) nurses the patient and there’s tension between the couple. They have bigger problems when a knife-wielding cult surrounds them and patients mutate into carnivorous creatures.

I’m a big fan of horror films and the body horror subgenre. Body horror utilizes visuals and psychological dread while showing some wicked gore effects. “The Void” excels in the gore and visuals, but unfortunately, not the dread. I found myself checking how much time was left at least twice.

Kotanski and Gillespie show off their love for John Carpenter and Clive Barker through their use of siren lighting, its siege formula, evil cults, and parasites emerging from peoples’ bodies. They seem too caught up in paying homage to “The Thing” and we never learn about the cult or the monsters.

The second act is riddled with cliches. I’ve seen the cult using a woman to give birth to their demonic god, people brainwashed into killing each other, and half-dead guys dragging axes across the floor. Give me something I haven’t seen already!

The characters aren’t particularly likable, given Daniel is a self-loathing moron, Allison is a thinly written damsel-in-distress, and Nurse Kim (Ellen Wong from “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) is an incompetent crybaby. It’s 2017, aren’t we done with the poorly written female characters yet?

The silver lining to “The Void” is its ending. Of course, it’s left open for a sequel, which can expand its world and mythology. And hopefully, give us some better-written characters?

Grade: C-

“Free Fire”

It’s not easy directing violence in a humorous tone. Certain directors do it well, but I didn’t expect Ben Wheatley (last year’s pretentious and underwhelming “High-Rise”) to be one of them. “Free Fire” is a fun action comedy.

IRA members Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) meet the eccentric arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) to buy M-16’s in a warehouse. Ord (Armie Hammer) and Justine (Brie Larson) are business representatives on opposite sides trying to maintain peace. Things go south when Vernon sells Chris the wrong weapons and Frank’s Stevo brother-in-law (Sam Riley) instigates a shootout. Then it’s 70 minutes of shooting.

“Free Fire” is a 90-minute-long film. The first 20 minutes is the arms deal while the remaining 70 is a loud, frenetic gunfight. It’s a battle royale scenario combined with slapstick humor. Everyone gets shot at least once, but there are some morbid sequences involving a van, a needle, gasoline, and a crowbar that make “Free Fire” innovative.

I’m not a fan of Wheatley’s previous films, but he pays great attention to detail in his directing. The soundtrack and clothes show his love of the 70’s and the minimize set is an authentic depiction of a sleazy warehouse. Wheatley first created his set playing “Minecraft” and it shows, given all the props and set designs.

The cast members are all great. Copley combines his charisma with some great physical humor, Hammer is cool and deadpan, and Larson is an unconventional femme fatale. She’s just doing her job and wants to get out alive. That doesn’t mean she’s afraid to shoot a couple people in the face, though.

There could have been some more time to explore each character, but Wheatley gives us enough time getting to know the characters during the shootouts. They get stoned, straighten their hair, insult each other, and tell stories while shooting at each other. That’s enough to satisfy me.

Grade: B+

“Sandy Wexler”

I’m rooting for Adam Sandler. As much as I hate his current movies, I’m rooting for the guy to make another great comedy reminiscent of “Funny People,” “Anger Management,” and “Happy Gilmore.” “Sandy Wexler” is unfortunately not that comeback.

Sandler is the titular character. Wexler is a famous talent manager known for his fierce loyalty and dedication to his clients. Despite his credibility, he lives in the guest house of a mansion, drives a crappy car, and his biggest client is a poor man’s Evil Knievel (Nick Swardson). That’s until he meets a beautiful zoo performer (Jennifer Hudson) and launches her stardom.

Props to Sandler for scrapping his traditional tiresome mean-spirited behavior and attempting to be more sentimental. Unfortunately, “Sandy Wexler” is an uneven and uncomfortable failure. I laughed maybe once, but I can’t even remember the joke.

“Sandy Wexler” is told in a non-linear, mockumentary structure that’s more self-indulgent than clever. It’s just an excuse for Sandler’s friends Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey, Chris Rock, and David Spade to have cameos. Sandler also attempts to portray Wexler as a lovable ne’er-do-well, but how are we supposed to root for a guy whose biggest flaw is being a compulsive liar?

Jennifer Hudson shows off some great singing chops, but her soulful performance doesn’t mesh with Sandler berating incompetent extras or fleeing angry attack dogs repeatedly. Several jokes in the film are overdone in a 130-minute run time, so the film could have trimmed at least 30 minutes altogether.

I’m not kidding when I say I want Adam Sandler to redeem himself. With “Punch-Drunk Love” (my all-time favorite romantic comedy) under his belt, the man is quite talented. But this 50-year-old actor has to realize that the childish voices and violent temper tantrums aren’t what people want anymore. Fingers crossed he takes the hint before his next movie.

Grade: D

“The Fate of the Furious”

Who would have thought that a “Point Break” rip-off called “The Fast & the Furious” would have spawned seven sequels? I didn’t. Who would have thought the franchise would have gone from the gearhead genre to the spy genre? I didn’t. “The Fate of the Furious” sticks to the spy roots.

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon when a mysterious terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron) persuades Dominic to join her organization. Letty and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) lead their team alongside Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) and their old nemesis Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to stop Dominic and Cipher’s plan.

The “Fast and Furious” franchise is a ridiculous blast. I personally wasn’t a fan of the first two installments since they were too serious, but each installment got better. “The Fate of the Furious” doesn’t reach the same level of fun as “Fast Five” and “Fast and Furious 6,” or the same emotional level as “Furious 7,” but it’s still solid escapism.

Most of the cast members are clearly having a blast. Johnson and Statham break character making each other laugh mid-banter, Kurt Russell is cool as always, and Tyrese Gibson and Ludracris once again add a great dose of humor. Even Helen Mirren has a rich cameo as a reluctant ally of the team.

Diesel, on the other hand, has no passion or effort in his performance. He goes from low tone to screaming like Nicolas Cage, and it’s sad to watch. I also expected more from Theron, but she phones in every cool-spoken philosophical monologue. It’s more cliched than menacing.

“The Fate of the Furious” features some frenetic action sequences, including raining cars from the sky and a battle royale-style prison fight. The climactic submarine duel is underwhelming since it feels reminiscent of “Fast and Furious 6’s” climax.

I applaud “The Fate of the Furious” for maintaining its fun over-the-top style and we have two more installments. However, with the loss of Paul Walker, the film struggles to maintain its heart and soul. Hopefully they’ll restore this within the next installment along with Diesel’s passion.

Grade: B-

Franchise ranked 1-8:

  1. Fast Five
  2. Fast & Furious 6
  3. Furious 7
  4. The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift
  5. The Fate of the Furious
  6. Fast & Furious
  7. The Fast & the Furious
  8. 2 Fast 2 Furious

“Your Name”

After reading a few reviews, I’m happy I gave a little anime film called “Your Name” a chance. This is a beautiful mind-bender with a rewarding payoff.

Taki and Mitsuha, two Japanese high school students, wake up to find they’ve swapped bodies. They wake up the following day back in their normal bodies, and then again the next day having swapped again. Why? They don’t know and neither to we. This keeps happening as they try to solve this mystery.

“Your Name” is an innovative depiction of time. It utilizes subtlety and editing to keep you guessing what’s going on. Pay close attention to each time a door opens or shuts to catch the body swaps. “Your Name” contains no exposition-fueled monologues, which is a nice change of pace for a sci-fi/fantasy film.

Taki and Mitsuha’s story is more emotional than fantasized. Taki deals with angst and not knowing his place in the world while Mitsuha deals with an estranged father and a difficult political climate. They help each other using text messages and notepad apps in their phones (a clever use of modern technology). They feel like real teenagers and not soap opera characters.

Director Makoto Shinkai (“The Garden of Words”) has made a beautifully drawn film that explores the power of dreams and twilight, as well as the beauty and horror of comets. Each time I felt “Your Name” was slowing down, something new would happen that kept my attention.

“Your Name” is exhausting to watch because we want Taki and Mitsuha to solve their own mystery. Each time they come close, something stops them, whether it’s a person, a dream, or a disaster. It gets mildly redundant, but thankfully the ending is sweet, poetic, and ambiguous enough to keep us wondering what happens afterwards.

Due to its popularity, we can count on a remake of “Your Name,” but it isn’t needed. Especially since the 2006 Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock vehicle “The Lake House” is a tamer version. Do yourselves a favor and just see “Your Name.” Especially if you’re an anime fan.

Grade: A

“Ghost in the Shell”

Scarlett Johansson is best with quiet, expressive roles and action heroines. In “Ghost in the Shell,” she does both and carries the ultimately bland cyberpunk film.

Humans have cybernetic technology and use it to enhance their strength, intelligence, and other traits. Major Mira Killian (Johansson), a cybernetic soldier, hunts for a mysterious cyber-terrorist (Michael Pitt) against her superiors’ orders. After encountering him, Killian recalls her past and realizes that her creators are hiding something.

I haven’t watched the anime, but from what I understand, “Ghost in the Shell” (1995) is one of the greatest anime films of all time. The live-action adaptation is uncertain if it wants to be a slow, artistic sci-fi film in tradition of “Blade Runner” (1982) or more action-packed like “Equilibrium” (2002).

The over-reliance on slow-mo action sequences are distracting from the film’s superb visuals and expressive moments. I enjoy Johansson performing her own stunts, but I was more interested in her character-driven moments. Rupert Sanders’s occasionally mesmerizing direction is best utilized in Killian’s solo scenes. It’s unfortunate there aren’t enough of those moments.

Writing wise, I prefer science fiction that shows the audience its world rather than tell us about it. The writers don’t trust their audience well since most dialogue scenes are exposition-fueled. Furthermore, the characters are emotionless with their delivery, with the exception of Pitt.

Pitt’s performance is cartoonish and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to sound damaged or imitate the Apple Macintosh. The best supporting performance goes to the great Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki. Kitano only speaks Japanese in this role and delivers each line with sass, charisma, and confidence. Why hasn’t he gotten more American roles?!

“Ghost in the Shell” had potential to be a mind-bending sci-fi film due to its visuals, concepts, and Johansson’s compelling performance. Maybe the sequel will expand more on those attributes.

Grade: C+

“Power Rangers”

While watching “Power Rangers,” all I wanted was Krispy Kreme. Mmmmm…. Krispy Kreme….

In Angel Grove, a Breakfast Club ensemble of high school students befriend each other and find strange coins. The students are former football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery), ostracized mean girl Kimberly (Naomi Scott), the autistic Billy (RJ Cyler), new girl Trini (Becky G), and loner Zack (Ludi Lin).

The coins empower these kids and lead them to an ancient being named Zordon (Bryan Cranston), who trains them to be the next Power Rangers, protectors of the galaxy. Meanwhile, alien invader Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) searches for the Zeo Crystal in her plot for world domination.

“Power Rangers” isn’t an original film since it borrows heavily from “Man of Steel” and “Chronicle.” While those films were overly destructive, brooding, and cynical, “Power Rangers” depicts the optimistic side of one discovering powers. Sure, there’s some cheese, but that’s part of the fun.

“The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was always a cheesy show with mindless action, but it had heart and great messages about diversity and friendship. “Power Rangers” maintains these messages, even when it occasionally treads on the dark side.

The original series depicted the characters as these perfect, popular kids, but in “Power Rangers,” they’re far from that. Jason is an outcast for letting down Angel Grove’s football team, Kimberly is guilt-ridden over a prank, Zack ditches school to take care of his mom, Billy’s often bullied for his disability, and Trini is afraid of coming out to her parents.

Any writer could have written these sensitive arcs in a juvenile fashion, but writer John Gatins (“Kong: Skull Island”) handles them maturely and realistically. All the rangers feel like kids and not caricatures. The cast does well with their roles, especially RJ Cyler as Billy (I related to him the most).

Elizabeth Banks steals the show as Rita Rapulsa and is clearly having a blast on camera. Whether she steals gold, brag about her plan, or eats a Krispy Kreme doughnut, she rocks.

Speaking of Krispy Kreme, “Power Rangers” over kills Krispy Kreme product placement, but it weirdly suits the plot and tone of the movie. It’s more charming than annoying. I would say the only let down of “Power Rangers” was the action was lackluster (lots of slow-mo, fast-mo fight scenes). But good news is there’s an upcoming sequel, which means room for improvement.

Grade: B+

“T2: Trainspotting”

It’s about time Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor made amends and followed up “Trainspotting” (one of my favorite films) with a sequel. It’s better than half of the long-waited sequels.

Nearly 20 years after Mark (McGregor) stole money from his friends, Mark now lives in Amsterdam with a wife and career. He unexpectedly returns to Scotland and reconciles with estranged friends Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremmer). They aren’t as fortunate since Simon now makes a living blackmailing people and Spud has relapsed into his heroin addiction. Then the psycho Begbie (Robert Carlyle) escapes prison, raising hell for the trio.

The brilliant and kinetic Boyle once again shows flare and energy in this long-waited followup. “T2” might seem unnecessary, but there’s a sequel book (“Trainspotting” is based on a novel), so it’s somewhat necessary. When it slows down in storytelling, Boyle makes up for it with his visuals and music.

There are quite a few transgressive moments in “T2” that have the same level of energy as “Trainspotting.” Most of these moments are electrified by the cast. Whether it’s Mark singing a song about King William killing Catholics in front of an ecstatic audience, or Mark and Begbie realizing they’ve ran into each other in a sleazy men’s bathroom, the laughs are consistent.

“T2” slows down halfway through and shifts to a nostalgic tone, which is both admirable and frustrating. We see the characters in a new light with Mark realizing he’s not as innocent as he lets on, he and Simon are criticized by Simon’s girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), and Begbie sees the error in his ways.

Simultaneously, Spud spends most of his time writing a novel and these scenes result in pacing issues. Veronika’s subplot with her, Mark, and Simon nearly turn the film into a formulaic romantic comedy, but thankfully Begbie (an always great Robert Carlyle) saves the film from going that direction. Another plus about the nostalgic tone is viewers don’t need to see “Trainspotting” to follow along. “T2” stands on its own.

The ending scene is dark if you analyze it closely. Characters seem okay either staying in the same place or simply going backwards. “Trainspotting” was about rebelling against society, so it’s obvious these characters won’t snap out of their rebellion. And I’m okay with that!

Grade: B