“The Snowman”

After seeing that Tomas Alfredson’s murder mystery The Snowman has a 9% approval on Rotten Tomatoes and Alfredson admitted to not shooting the entire script, I had to see the film to find out how terrible it is. The Snowman isn’t terrible, it’s just bad.

The Sherlock Holmes-like detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) receives a letter at his desk taunting him before being assigned to a homicide case. Another woman is murdered and a snowman is found in her house. With the body count and snowmen rising, can Harry solve a 10-year-old case? He’ll have better chances if he gets a driver’s license and stops drinking!

The biggest strengths in The Snowman are its occasionally haunting cinematography and Fassbender’s committed performance. Part from that, this is a trashy and often confusing thriller. Regardless, I was entertained, so I’ll give The Snowman credit there.

Fassbender’s Harry is a convincing portrayal of both obsessive and addictive personalities. We see Harry’s relationship with Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) failed due to his obsession with work and his alcoholism. It’s a sad subplot, but it would be more emotionally investing if we got Harry’s backstory. On top of that, how does he have a badge if he doesn’t drive and always passes out in public places?

If Alfredson and his three-person team of screenwriters weren’t so focused on a subplot involving a sleazy engineer (JK Simmons sporting a terrible accent) or flashbacks with a washed-up detective (Val Kilmer in his first theatrical film since MacGruber), we might care more about Harry. Harry Hole is an iconic character in Norwegian literature, so why focus on dull supporting characters?

I figured The Snowman would have a sexist character since it’s about a killer with severe mommy issues killing single mothers. That’s fine, but not when the entire script is sexist! Why is every female character depicted as pathetic, helpless, unfaithful, a sex object, and only focused on men? The writers clearly didn’t take George RR Martin’s advice on treating female characters as people.

The trailer for The Snowman had me hopeful that it would be another Prisoners or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This was a harsh lesson for me to not have high expectations.

Grade: C-

 

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“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+

 

“X-Men: Apocalypse”

I chuckled at a semi-meta quote in “X-Men: Apocalypse;” when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) exits “Return of the Jedi,” she utters, “At least we can all agree the third installment is the weakest.” Because “Apocalypse” is the weakest of the new “X-Men” trilogy.

“Apocalypse” takes place ten years after “Days of Future Past,” and Professor X (James McAvoy) has turned his house into the Mutant Academy. Meanwhile, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has settled down, whereas Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a mutant anti-hero, rescuing troubled mutants and starting new lives for them.

The trio are of course brought together when a god-like mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) surfaces and recruits mutants for world domination. This brings us to an introduction to a young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), as well as a reunion with Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Havoc (Lucas Till), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

It’s safe to say that while “X-Men: Apocalypse” is the weakest one of the new trilogy and very mediocre, it’s not the worst of the franchise (that goes to “The Last Stand”). The first half suffers from the most problems.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

The first half of the film is all buildup and exposition, but it lacks focus and steady pacing to keep it interesting in most of the segments. Magneto’s story is by far the most interesting, as we understand why he’s reverted back to his old ways. The second half feels much like “Days of Future Past,” and I mean that in a good way.

Quicksilver once again has a visually impressive and fun sequence, stealing the show from everyone; this scene even tops his scene in “Days of Future Past.” For those who saw the trailer and caught a glimpse of Wolverine’s scene,  that sequence tops his mansion fight in “X2.” There are also some innovative and surreal sequences reminiscent of “Inception” that take place inside Professor X’s head, which is funny because those sequences were originally supposed to be in “First Class.”

Acting wise, the main cast does a great job as usual. I was impressed with Turner and Sheridan’s portrayal of Jean Grey and Cyclops as the angsty young lovers who stand by each other. Sadly, Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of Apocalypse and the character’s development were disappointing.

Apocalypse is a less entertaining version of Ultron from “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” These two have the same goal: recruit a group of followers, destroy the world while making their followers believe they’re saving it, and find a new body? It’s the same motivation as Ultron! Isaac also lacks charisma in this performance, and it’s sad because this is Poe Dameron from “Star Wars.”

Another small nitpick I had was that “First Class” was a spy movie and “Days of Future Past” was a time travel movie, so both had very thick plots and broad ideas; however, “Apocalypse” is simply a disaster movie, so there isn’t as much imagination as there could have been. Yet I was still entertained because of the cast and a few memorable sequences. Kudos for that!

Grade: B

The Best Movies Of 2015

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It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite review to write – MY FAVORITE MOVIES (OR FILMS) OF 2015!!!! This year was a solid year, especially in the genre films department. Now I have a couple of disclaimers.

  • I go see at least three or four movies a month, but it’s hard to catch everything. So films on other peoples’ lists like Straight Outta Compton, Room, and Carol won’t be on the list.
  • I really wanted to see The Revenant, but it won’t be out until a week after the new year, so it’s unfortunately not a contender.
  • There are a few movies you’ll see on this list and think, “Hey, why didn’t you review or mention this?” It’s because I either saw them before I launched this blog or after they were released on video.
  • A grade doesn’t mean I have to rank an A+ over an A. There’s even a movie I gave an A+ that’s not on the list at all!

On that note, I have some honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut, but are still worth mentioning:

  • Beasts of No Nation (the only A+ movie not on the list) was a beautiful and harrowing war film about innocence lost, featuring Idris Elba’s finest performance to date.
  • Creed restored my faith in the Rocky franchise, thanks to Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.
  • The End of the Tour is the best road trip movie I’ve seen in the last few years and featured Jason Segel’s finest work.
  • Ex-Machina was a disturbing and suspenseful sci-fi thriller that had great commentary on objectification.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service – was the best spy movie I saw in a year loaded with spy movies, and featured one of the most innovative and memorable fight scenes to date.
  • Trainwreck was a very funny and surprisingly dramatic comedy that introduced me to the talented Amy Schumer.

And now let’s get down to it! My top 10 favorite films of 2015 are:

10) It FollowsIt Follows may have the ridiculous concept of a dark sex comedy, but it’s also a very disturbing commentary on teen sexuality and a strong message to young kids about safe sex.

9) Sicario – Perhaps the darkest and most nihilistic movie on my list, Sicario shines through the darkness, thanks to Denis Villeneuve’s visceral direction and powerful performances from both Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro. This is one cartel thriller that isn’t for the faint of heart.

8) The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino’s newest Western is also not for the faint of heart, but still an absolute blast. Part murder mystery and part classical Western, Tarantino’s beautiful direction brings out the best work from its cast, particularly Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins.

7) Love & Mercy – I hate music biopics, but Love & Mercy is more of an engaging psychological study of a broken man than a generic Brian Wilson biopic. Paul Dano plays young Wilson with frenetic energy while John Cusack portrays the older fragile version of Wilson in this unique music film.

6) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – Thank you, J.J. Abrams, for giving us a great Star Wars movie for Christmas. New and old blood, nostalgia mixed with more character-driven storytelling, Star Wars ranks among the best Star Wars installments to date.

5) The Martian – Ridley Scott returns to form and directs the year’s most optimistic movie featuring this year’s most likable protagonist, Mark Watney (Matt Damon in his best performance). This is a survival sci-fi tale that will have viewers laughing while engaged in science and disco music.

4) Steve Jobs – Director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin crafted the best film that no one saw this year! Shame on the film goers for skipping a visionary fast-paced biopic, featuring a brilliant performance from Michael Fassbender as the titular character.

3) Spotlight – Likely this year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight is a gripping and important journalism piece that follows people (not heroes or villains) and their struggles writing an investigative piece on molestation in the Catholic Church. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel MacAdams all deliver standout performances as our protagonists.

2) Inside Out – Pixar is back with the very beautiful, funny, and emotional Inside Out. Director Pete Docter (Up, Monster’s Inc.) continues to combine basic genre formulas with innovative storytelling in the form of an animated film. In this case, a disaster movie with insight on emotions.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road – What a film! WHAT A LOVELY FILM! That’s the fanboy part of me talking, but the reason why Mad Max is #1 is because George Miller rebooted his own franchise and topped his previous installments. Between the action sequences with stuntmen and reliance on basic props for visual effects, we rarely get an action movie with as much effort put into it as Mad Max: Fury Road. Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw an action movie that treated an ensemble of female characters as powerful people and passed the Bechdel test. These reasons are enough to please all film goers and not just action fans.

Thanks a bunch for reading this countdown! At the bottom, tell me if you agree or disagree with my list. Also, what was your favorite film of 2015?