“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+