“Hardcore Henry”

When I figured out the message in the opening two minutes of “Hardcore Henry” literally was, “Don’t be a pussy,” I immediately lowered my expectations. I still embraced the mayhem and Sharlto Copley’s wicked performance.

The whole movie is told from the first-person perspective of Henry, who wakes up in a lab and finds he’s now an android. His wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) is then abducted by an eccentric terrorist with telekinesis named Akan and must battle his army with the help of Jimmy (Copley).

“Hardcore Henry” is a dizzying, bizarre, and bloody good time! Director Ilya Naishuller applies video game aesthetics to an action movie that’s reminiscent of the 1995 thriller “Strange Days” and the “Half Life” video game series.

We don’t see Henry at all, which docks a few points since we don’t get to know our protagonist, but that’s okay because Sharlto Copley steals every scene he’s in! Jimmy is a versatile character who’s part suited agent, hippy, bum, punk, nerd, cokehead, and British soldier. He’s the film’s main source of humor, charisma, and exposition. I’d argue that he’s our main hero.

The action is thrilling and often has frenetic and gory results. Through Henry’s perspective, he blows up cars and flies off of them, rips a guy’s junk off, throws someone into a fan, and pulls some insane stunt work on a helicopter. It’s impressive action since most of the stunts are performed by either the cinematographer or Naishuller himself.

In terms of narrative, “Hardcore Henry”mildly stinks. There’s a predictable twist halfway into the movie with Estelle, and Akan’s plot makes little sense, but we aren’t here for the plot, are we? We’re here for a non-stop adrenaline rush featuring a brawl with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” as background music.

I wouldn’t watch “Hardcore Henry” again by any means since this movie made me feel hungover right after I recovered from a hangover. But it’s a badass 90 minutes that everyone should experience once.

Grade: B

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“Midnight Special”

It’s very rare these days we get a film that’s so original and mysterious, we’ll be thinking about it for days. “Midnight Special” is that kind of film!

We follow Roy (Michael Shannon), who’s rescued his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from a dangerous cult led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). With the help of his ex-wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy will do anything to make sure Alton reaches a specific destination.

Complications arise when Alton demonstrates great, majestic powers that can alter the world, attracting not only the cult’s attention, but the government’s, as well.

“Midnight Special” is writer/director Jeff Nichols’s fourth film. He’s also brought us great indie gems such as the psychological horror film “Take Shelter”, and the coming-of-age crime drama “Mud”. “Midnight Special” is nearly as great as those two, combining a thrilling sci-fi tale with an emotional family character study.

Roy, Alton, Lucas, and Sarah are a family on the road. Roy cares for Alton deeply and would die to protect him, Sarah’s given a second chance to act as Alton’s mother and doesn’t take it for granted, and Lucas takes on the role of the cool uncle.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The dynamic between the trio is moving with Roy and Sarah hesitant to give up Alton, despite knowing his extraordinary fate. Lucas, on the other hand, knows from the start that taking Alton to his destination is the right, and acts as his loyal bodyguard.

The cast’s performances are often quiet, but expressive. Shannon and Edgerton in particular give the best performances and are empathetic characters, expressing emotions of fear, wonder, and guilt. Dunst is just as good, while newcomer Lieberher delivers a wonderful performance. I normally don’t like kid actors, but he knocks it out of the park .

The mysteries of “Midnight Special” demand time to analyze and interpret after first viewing. We get some beautiful visuals and suspenseful sequences that emphasize Alton’s true powers, but that’s all we need. There’s no exposition tool characters here to tell us everything like in “Inception” or “The Matrix”!

The only thing that’s not well-developed is the cult. We get to know Calvin in the first ten minutes, but then he disappears for the rest of the movie. We don’t know the cult’s motives or why Roy left, and that can be frustrating since they are our antagonists.

I can forgive that flaw because the point of the movie is the relationship between Roy and Alton. Once Alton tells Roy he doesn’t have to worry about him and Roy replies with, “I like worrying about you,” we understand that this is a father-and-son movie.

Nichols wrote this movie as both a tribute to John Carpenter and his newborn child, thus “Midnight Special” feels personal without being too self-indulgent. When was the last time you saw a movie execute that?

Grade: A-

“I Saw the Light”

The key to making a good biopic about a troubled icon is to show why they were so troubled. “I Saw the Light” doesn’t follow this one rule whatsoever.

We follow Tom Hiddleston as the legendary country music star, Hank Williams. It’s an exploration through his short-lived success, two marriages, and A LOT of booze and painkillers. We see glimpses of Williams’s insecurities, back pain, and semi-manic behavior without any idea of what to make of it.

“I Saw the Light” was originally scheduled for release for Oscar season last December, but was delayed due to a booked release schedule. This would have been 2015’s one Oscar-bait movie that missed all its marks.

Hiddleston is semi-entertaining as the drunk and easily amused Williams, showing off solid singing skills (he did all of his own vocal work in this movie). Elizabeth Olsen  plays Hank’s wife Audrey, who’s often critical of Hank’s lifestyle and constantly threatens Hank with divorce. Her performance is fine, but I wish the writing for her character was more than redundant nagging. We don’t get to know anyone else but them, by the way.

Writer/Director Marc Abraham gets caught up in Williams’s debauchery and abusive behavior (he nearly shoots Audrey in one scene), but there isn’t a flashback, line of dialogue, or any indication of what made him such a terrible person. It feels like Abraham read the Hank Williams biography, highlighted his favorite moments, and decided to just film those without context.

After seeing “Batman v. Superman” last week, I wondered if movies could get more disjointed. Abraham beat Snyder in that category with this Cliff Notes mess.

Grade: D

“Get a Job”

I’m not sure what it is about Miles Teller. He’s been in two of my favorite movies of this decade (the underrated “The Spectacular Now” and the unforgettable “Whiplash”), but then he’s been in some of the decade’s worst (“Fant4stic”). Now, he’s in “Get a Job”, which surprisingly isn’t very empathetic.

Teller plays Will, a recent college graduate who’s stunned when he doesn’t get his dream job after graduation. He lands a corporate videographer position, but isn’t very happy there. We also have his overly successful dad who loses his long-term job (Bryan Cranston), Will’s levelheaded girlfriend Jillian (Anna Kendrick), stoner chemistry teacher Charlie (Nicholas Braun), stock broker Luke (Brandon T. Jackson), and their stalker entrepreneur friend Ethan (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). They all share wacky and ultimately unfunny adventures of achieving success in today’s competitive working world.

I didn’t have terribly high hopes for “Get a Job”, but I wanted to at least relate to it. I’m 24, graduated from school three years ago, and I’ve struggled with finding jobs. I was expecting to root for someone who doesn’t irresponsibly spend their graduation money on a large television, and actually tips at a strip club (Will only goes for free food, not expecting to be judged).

Five minutes into “Get a Job”, I pretty much hated every character. Luke is a cartoonish player, who’s put in unrealistic hazing activities that Jordan Belfort wouldn’t even condone. Ethan wants to design an app that allows him to stalk people after receiving their text and location, and sells it? Ugh…

Cranston’s character begins very likable and levelheaded about working, not tolerating Will’s crap for most of the movie. He then proceeds to look for other jobs by stalking the CEO at his dream company and secures a position? Persistence is appreciated in the job force, but not when you’re risking a restraining order.

Will is an entitled brat that we’re supposed to root for, but would you identify with someone who spitefully posts their boss’s sex tape on a projector at a company party? Someone who answers his phone during an interview, and leaves other potential job offers hanging? How in the hell does he still get these jobs?!

We get some semi-entertaining supporting work from Allison Brie and Jorge Garcia as Will’s colorful coworkers, but they’re mostly caricatures. Kendrick’s Jillian is the most empathetic character, who starts out successful, loses her job, and then decides she’s okay with figuring out what she really wants to do. Too bad she doesn’t get enough screen time!

“Get a Job” was shelved for three years, and released on VOD, which isn’t surprising. It’s more of a cautionary tale on how not to act in the real world than a smart commentary on today’s job market.

Grade: D+

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

After thirty minutes into “Batman v Superman”, I caught the first big red flag – there isn’t a consistent plot!

It takes place eighteen months after “Man of Steel” and Superman (Henry Cavill) is the most polarizing figure in the world. Some look at him as a god while others like Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) view him as a danger to the world. This leads to an epic (well, semi-epic) showdown between our heroes.

So, I died down my expectations after the reviews were less positive than the mediocre “Man of Steel”. “Batman v Superman” is a well-acted, action-packed spectacle (so, slight improvement over “MoS”), but with shamefully sloppy writing.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

We get a redundant introduction with the seven-hundredth depiction of Bruce witnessing his parents’ murders, but then a surprisingly redeeming scene of the climactic fight in “Man of Steel” from Bruce’s perspective. He’s our primary protagonist while Superman is our secondary. Unfortunately, neither are well-developed enough for us to be invested in their story.

There’s a point in the film where Superman is called in front of congress and watches everyone in the court room die in a terrorist attack while he can’t do anything, and then blamed by the media for their deaths. It’s a dark and effective moment, but what about Batman? Through dialogue, we learn Batman has been around for twenty years (makes sense since this is loosely based on the great “Dark Knight Returns” graphic novel).

But somehow, the media is neither praising or criticizing the bat for blowing up cars and shooting dozens of people in fights (yeah, Batman’s an 80’s action movie type in this one); he’s been doing this crap for twenty years, but the media doesn’t care? Most of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s development is done through shared scenes with his trusted butler, Alfred (a terrific Jeremy Irons) who’s always there to give Wayne wise advice.

Kent has subplots that go nowhere, including a dull romance with Lois Lane (Amy Adams); their highlight is a sensual, albeit pointless bath tub scene that makes Kent look like a horny jackass than a loving boyfriend. She’s otherwise just the damsel in distress for him to save. When that doesn’t happen, he butts heads with his editor Perry (Laurence Fishburne) over writing an article on Batman and it goes nowhere.

There’s surprisingly a lot of dream sequences that are supposed to push both heroes’ motives forward and heighten emotions, but they’re instead annoying and unnecessary. The worst being a great apocalyptic fight that leads to a confusing message from a mysterious time traveler in Bruce’s dream, and again – IT GOES NOWHERE!

You know the TV spots of the climactic fight between our protagonists? That’s pretty much the whole fight, which is roughly five of the film’s last thirty minutes. It’s still pretty badass and followed by one insane and epic fight, pitting them alongside Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) against a menacing creature called Doomsday.

So, yeah, the writing in “Batman v. Superman” is extremely hit and miss, but the editor digs the hole deeper for Zack Snyder. Some sequences are too long and others are too damn short! The film’s strongest aspect is to no surprise, its cast.

Affleck knocks it out of the park as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He was a controversial choice in 2013, but he proves himself worthy of wearing the cape and cowl, being our most vicious and brooding Batman to date. Cavill has more emotion and charisma as Superman in his second time around. Gadot is the perfect casting choice as Wonder Woman and brought the most excitement and praise out of my audience.

The only cast member I was very disappointed in was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. He’s introduced as a god-hating, jolly rancher-eating hipster, but then he gets increasingly reminiscent of Nicolas Cage, as the film goes on. Not sure what he was going for there!

Zack Snyder has talent, but his love for unrestrained storytelling and fetish for mayhem brings a potentially amazing movie down several notches. Maybe the Director’s Cut on Blu-Ray will be an improvement.

Grade: C-

“10 Cloverfield Lane”

I don’think I’ve landed on this lucky of a moving-going streak during spring before. Between “The Witch”, “Deadpool”, “Zootopia”, and now “10 Cloverfield Lane”, it’s been one hell of a year so far.

Okay, so “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a movie that you should see knowing very little about, so I’ll keep it brief. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up from a car accident in a bomb shelter. She finds two men – the laidback and dimwitted Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Howard (John Goodman), the hardcore survivalist.

Questions are of course asked. “Why are we in a bomb shelter?” “What happened outside?” “Did it really happen?” “Who the hell is Howard and what’s wrong with him?!”

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is NOT related to the 2008 “Cloverfield” film, but it’s certainly an anthological installment in the series. Don’t expect a party-fueled found footage blend of science fiction and dark comedy; expect an unbearably intense and mysterious thriller with hints of sci-fi!

Freshman director Dale Tratchtenberg and co-writer Damien Chazelle (the genius behind 2014’s “Whiplash”) write a Hitchcockian claustrophobic that’s reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone” and 2011’s “Take Shelter”. There’s a lot of attention to detail in this small old-fashioned-decorated shelter, and enough time for conversations. Their writing also brings the best out of their leads.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead portrays Michelle with that cool mysterious attitude she had as Ramona Flowers in “Scott Pilgrim”, and we root for her from the introduction. We don’t know much about her other than what’s said there, but that’s just enough. John Goodman steals every scene as Howard; Howard is eccentric, menacing, and slightly pathetic, but one of the most fascinating on-screen characters this year.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” isn’t exactly perfect since there are a few scenes that rely on convenience to move forward, but that’s forgivable due to its tight direction and energetic script. Don’t worry, there’s no shaky cam!

Grade: A

“Zootopia”

The trailer for “Zootopia” made it look as if the only standout moment was that now-famous sloth scene. The trailer editors should be fired because there’s way more to “Zootopia” than satirical DMV commentary.

It’s a world run by animals and our protagonist is the first rabbit cop, Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin). Tired of being assigned to parking duty, she steps up and investigates a missing otter case with the help of a con artist fox named Nick (a terrific Jason Bateman). And like in all cop mysteries, the case is bigger than they expected.

“Zootopia” is the biggest surprise so far this year because going in, I didn’t expect this to be Disney version of Film Noir. I didn’t expect a five-minute-long “Breaking Bad” parody. I especially didn’t expect meta and fast-paced jokes reminiscent of “The Simpsons'” golden age (makes sense since co-director Rich Moore directed some of the best episodes).

We’re treated to wonderful voicework from Bateman, Goodwin, and Idris Elba as the stern police chief cape buffalo, who delivers some of the film’s best lines (keep your ears open for the monologue about real life). The script is also well-rounded in world building, as we see how an animal-run society functions.

Predators are ten percent of the population and have the most authoritative positions while smaller animals (like rabbits) are looked at as underdogs. Foxes are treated cruelly due to their savage reputation. This makes Nick and Judy a terrific buddy cop pair. They’re the outcasts out to prove to Zootopia that the outcast animals can succeed.

There’s social commentary present that is by no means preachy or heavy-handed. Between a scene where Judy addresses being called cute as inappropriate and scenes involving Judy’s discouraging parents, it’s a good lesson for younger audience members.. That’s if they can make it that far without being bothered by the jump scares.

Moore and co-director Byron Howard are also behind other recent Disney greats such as “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Frozen”. Those two were also meta, grandiose, and surprisingly dark like “Zootopia”. “Zootopia” is more on par with “Wreck-It Ralph” in terms of style, but still as magical as the latter.

Grade: A