“Storks”

It’s a refreshing change of pace for R-rated comedy actors like Andy Samberg, Jordan Peele, and Keegan-Michael Key to show off their comedic talents in an animated family movie. “Storks” is that movie.

“Storks” is set in a world where storks used to deliver babies. The service was shut down, and the storks began delivering packages for a FedEx-style company, Cornerstore. Employee stork Junior (Samberg) regrets not firing human employee Tulip (Katie Crown) when a baby is born! They decide the best course of action is to deliver that baby without their evil boss (Kelsey Grammer) suspecting a thing.

“Storks” is a fast-paced animated comedy with several great visual gags, one-liners, and an imaginative world. This was a date movie for me, and I was surprised at how much fun I was having.

I can attribute my joy to Samberg’s sharp delivery and his chemistry with Crown. Key and Peele also steal a few scenes as a pair of wolves who want to raise the baby as their own. The movie is also quite heartfelt with positive messages about family, and how you can find family in a friend.

I normally don’t like pop songs used in movies (especially after “Suicide Squad” overkilled it), but “Storks” uses its pop songs well. Vance Joy’s “Fire and the Flood” strengthens the sentimental climax.

There are a couple of flaws that bring the movie down a few grades. There’s a stork that Danny Trejo voices, who plays an important part to the script, and we don’t get to know him well like we should. There’s also a little too much verbal exposition for my taste, but this is forgivable due to the film’s energy and humor.

“Storks” is a fun family movie and so far the best movie of September. This month is dreadful, so I’m thankful I chose this as my date movie.

Grade: B

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“Blair Witch”

Is September the month for “lost in the woods” movies? I just reviewed “The Sea of Trees” yesterday and now I’m reviewing “Blair Witch.” Between the two, this one’s better.

“Blair Witch” takes place twenty years after the events of “The Blair Witch Project.” James discovers found footage on Youtube and believes that his sister Heather (the predecessor’s protagonist) is in the video. He enlists his friends Lisa, Peter, and Ashley, as well as a pair of locals named Lane and Talia to explore Burkittsville. And if you’ve seen the first movie, you know what to expect.

Director Adam Wingard is a talented genre filmmaker. With the gruesomely entertaining “You’re Next” and criminally underrated “The Guest” under his belt, he’s an ideal choice for horror movies. However, “Blair Witch” demonstrates Wingard’s greatest flaw – he relies on his film’s climax as the selling point.

The first two acts of “Blair Witch” feature some innovative camera techniques, including earpiece cameras and some spooky drone shots. But the characters debate the Blair Witch’s existence, they wonder in circles around the woods, the sun never comes up, a scared character cries in front of the camera, and they end up in a house. It’s the same movie as “The Blair Witch Project.”

The final fifteen minutes are terrifying and feature some brilliant uses of lighting and sound, as well as an unsettling twist. It’s just not enough to recommend sitting through two generic acts of storytelling.

Grade: C

“The Sea of Trees”

When Gus Van Sant’s (“Good Will Hunting,” “Milk”) “The Sea of Trees” was booed at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, I was curious why. Answer – it’s a Lifetime movie.

Matthew McConaughey plays a suicidal teacher named Arthur. He travels to the “Suicide Forest” in Japan since it’s the “perfect place to commit suicide.” It’s here he meets another suicidal man named Takumi (a typecast Ken Watanabe). Together, they look for a way out of the forest after a change of heart.

I don’t mind an emotionally heavy movie that questions life and death (“The Fountain” is one of my favorite movies, after all), but “The Sea of Trees” has an annoying fetish for misery and a lack of vision. There are a few mildly haunting moments, but it’s mostly a film that tries too hard.

HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD! HEAVIER THAN THE FILM’S EMOTIONS!

Arthur is in a failing marriage with Joan (Naomi Watts), and in several vague arguments, a thousand flashbacks, and one exposition-heavy monologue we learn the following:

  • Arthur was miserable at an esteemed company.
  • Joan was a functioning alcoholic
  • Arthur had an affair with a colleague that further strained his marriage with Joan.
  • She began drinking more.
  • Arthur took a job as a professor, which Joan judged as laziness.
  • Joan was then diagnosed with cancer, which brought them closer together.
  • They reconciled after her recovery surgery.
  • Joan died in a car accident after her recovery surgery.

The biggest problem with its content besides its lackluster execution is the lack of emotion. We know Arthur didn’t know Joan well, but we don’t know if he ever loved her. Therefore, his suicide attempt isn’t powerful, but melodramatic.

Watanabe once again finds himself as a character who only speaks the screenwriters’ philosophical thoughts, much like in “Godzilla” and “Inception.” He’s a great actor, but can we give the man a meatier role? It doesn’t help that his character is just a painfully obvious symbol of Joan.

There are a couple of eerie moments in which both men need to survive using corpses’ clothes and tools that work, but these moments are scattered too far apart. I can see the movie working better if it focused on the survival elements rather than Arthur’s marriage, but that’s not the writers’ main fetish, isn’t it?

Grade: D-

“High-Rise”

I haven’t been to the theater since I saw “Don’t Breathe.” There hasn’t been much out and I’ve had other events. However, I’m getting caught up on some Netflix and VOD releases, including “High-Rise.”

“High-Rise” is director Ben Wheatley’s (that bizarre hitman horror movie “Kill List”) third film and takes place in a tower block in the 1970s’ UK. Tom Hiddleston stars as Robert, a doctor who moves into the complex where he’s introduced to the hedonistic lifestyle and elitist attitudes among attendees.

Between the narcissism and increasing power outages, a class war ensues. The working-class families live in the lower floors and fight over food and power; on the other hand, the wealthy on the higher floors (including Robert) engage in orgies, lavish parties, and eating dogs.

“High-Rise” is a wildly transgressive piece of film with shades of Kubrick mashed with “Mad Men,” “Dredd,” and “Snowpiercer.” It’s ambitious and bold; however, that’s both admirable and frustrating.

“High-Rise” begins morbidly with a mad Robert cooking a dog before he tells his story in flashbacks. We then see a gruesome autopsy scene that’s used as foreshadowing for what’s to come. This again is admirable, but once the second act begins, the narrative structure becomes about as chaotic as the story itself.

We see an orgy, then a riot, then another orgy, then animals die, then another orgy, and finally rape and torture. This is expected in transgressive films, but it becomes boring and repetitive after a while. The film goes further downhill through its contradicting logic.

Jeremy Irons plays the tower architect, Royal. Irons plays him with charisma and menace, but his motives seem to change in every scene. He wants to fix the building one minute, but then he later monologues about creating a better society through the chaos?

Luke Evans plays Richard, a documentary filmmaker who intends to expose Royal’s agenda. He resorts to raping and torturing a woman for information, and a psychologist still diagnoses him as the sanest person in the tower? WTF?!

Hiddleston is the strongest part in the movie. He plays Robert as a Don Draper-type with his cool suits and womanizing attitude. We see he’s also in pain and feels alone. He’s more vulnerable when the residents go berserk, leading Robert to manically paint himself and his apartment.

“High-Rise” is a polarizing movie because of its content and narrative. Sure, the themes and commentary are timely, but Wheatley seems more comfortable focusing on shock value than his message. It’s a shame.

Grade: C-