Friday, May 19, 2017

Movie Review: “Alien: Covenant”


Alien: Covenant

**** out of 5
122 minutes
Rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Ridley Scott took an interesting gamble with the release of Prometheus. Instantly divisive, the film was full of huge ideas while surrounding them with some admittedly boneheaded characters. All sci-fi/horror films can be prone to this, so the best approach was ideas first, characters second to get the most enjoyment out of it. With that being said, Scott has taken an even bigger gamble by slapping the official Alien title upon Alien: Covenant.

Beginning with a prologue featuring our new favorite synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) waxing poetic with his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), we skip to the year 2104. A colony ship — the Covenant — is headed to a remote planet when a solar shockwave awakens the crew. Forty-seven colonists wind up dead, along with the Captain, Branson (James Franco). Among the crew are Branson’s wife Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the new Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) and wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo), the ship’s pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) and his wife Faris (Amy Seimetz), along with plenty of other fodder for slaughter. Also on the mission is another synthetic named Walter (also played by Fassbender). A ghost transmission leads them off course to an Earth-like planet where all hell breaks loose as they all soon learn that they are not alone.

To issue a warning upfront, Covenant is way more a Prometheus sequel than it is an Alien prequel. But with Scott having already announced another entry, therein lies the biggest stumbling block: middle child syndrome. All Covenant wants is to find where it fits in and, unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait at least a couple years before we finally find out. As it stands, Scott — and new writers John Logan and Dante Harper — has somehow managed to plant even bigger ideas this time around, even if it only creates more questions than answers. Hopefully, Scott isn’t digging himself into a hole as he tries to marriage the new mythology to the existing Alien universe. The beauty of the original series was it’s simplicity of the xenomorphs picking everyone off one by one. It was the ultimate game of cat and mouse between prey and the hunted. All of this grand backstory is starting to feel even more unnecessary. While it’s amazing to be back in the Alien universe with Scott at the helm, he better find a way to merge the two series together and come up with an epic endgame to make it pay off.

For those of us trusting in Scott’s masterplan — myself included — I say sit back and enjoy the ride. While Alien Covenant may be one of the most predictable — at least as far as tension and scares go — it’s still filled with plenty of reason to go along for the ride. Hopefully, audiences aren’t turned off by the fact that it feels way more Prometheus than Alien so that it can make plenty of money to provide Scott the freedom to take us on another trip. Just because the next entry has been announced doesn’t mean Fox can’t yank it from their slate whenever they want. Covenant may not be the best entry — that claim will undoubtedly always belong to the original — but for now, it’s safe to kick the tires and light the fires.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Movie Review: “Snatched”


Snatched

*** 1/2 out of 5
90 minutes
Rated R for crude sexual content, brief nudity, and language throughout
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Amy Schumer (Trainwreck) may have her share of detractors, but Goldie Hawn is a downright national treasure. Pairing them as mother/daughter — and opening Mother’s Day weekend — in Snatched was a brilliant move casting wise. It’s too bad Katie Dippold’s (The Heat, Ghostbusters) screenplay isn’t as inspired. With director Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Wackness, 50/50, Warm Bodies, and The Night Before) at the helm, there should have been more coherency at play. What we get instead is something that feels more like a forgotten ’80s action comedy — something along the lines of Volunteers — where it veers wildly through inconsistent tones. It never knows if it is a wacky adventure or serious mother/daughter vehicle? No one seems to know, so it’s a good thing it’s still hilarious.

Emily (Schumer) is a having a horrible day. She’s been fired from her job and her boyfriend Michael (Randall Park) has broken up with her to go on tour with his band just before they’re supposed to leave on a trip to South America. In order to not lose out on her non-refundable getaway, she talks her mom, Linda (Hawn) into joining. Soon enough, Emily thinks she’s going to hook up with James (Tom Bateman), but instead winds up kidnapped with Linda and the two are on their own to try to find a way home. Meanwhile, they’re being hunted down by the nefarious Morgado (Óscar Jaenada) with only an agoraphobic sibling at home, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), annoying the U.S. government trying to get some help.

Aside from the scattershot tone shifts, Snatched is every bit as raucous as you’d expect from a Schumer vehicle. It’s a good thing she continues to surround herself with a hilarious supporting cast and a director who understands that sometimes it’s the little things that can be funniest. Plenty of verbal wordplay is at hand such as Emily asking her mom to help her put the fun back in non-refundable or Linda not hearing “welcome” correctly. Thankfully it doesn’t rely on xenophobic jokes and the women manage to become better people, no matter how forced it feels by the end.

Schumer and Hawn make a fantastic mother/daughter duo and with Schumer working on a vehicle for her to play sister opposite Jennifer Lawrence, I am crossing my fingers she brings back Hawn to play mother again. I’m ecstatic to see Hawn on the screen after 15 years and she’s still as winning as ever. Snatched may not be a slam dunk as a whole, but it never tries to be the best comedy ever. Once it finally settles into its shenanigans it starts to pick up the pace. It may have no idea how it wants to end and finally just settles on the most obvious, but the adventure is worth the laughs and this mother’s day, at least audiences weren’t assaulted with a Mother’s Day 2. That in itself may be the biggest blessing of all.

Movie Review: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”


King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

** out of 5
126 minutes 
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language
Warner Bros. Pictures


Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

In the wastelands of Hollywood reboots, remakes, and reimaginings, Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword certainly falls at the bottom of the heap. I figured this could go either way once Ritchie was attached, but I had higher hopes when I saw he had a hand in the screenplay. Maybe that’s where things went awry. While Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur tried its hand at being too realistic, Ritchie takes the exact opposite approach.

This version of the legend infuses itself with horrible acting, bad CGI, no sense of fun, a plodding pace, and a cameo from The Little Mermaid’s Ursula and her Ladies of the Lake. Warner Bros. has a catastrophe on their hands, and judging by a pretty empty theater during the screening I attended, I cannot fathom who this King Arthur was made for. It’s too caught up in the supernatural for hardcore Arthur fans and too boring for anyone else with a pulse to make it out without catching a few zzzs before the credits finally roll.

While it feels convoluted, it’s really quite simple. Uther (Eric Bana) has just defeated the evil Mages — that’s magician, wizard, or sorcerer to you and me — and tries to allow his wife Elsa (Katie McGrath) and Young Arthur (Zac and Oliver Barker) to escape. Just wouldn’t you know it, the Mage Supreme winds up killing Arthur’s mum and pa and he is swept away to be raised by the common folk. Meanwhile, Uther’s brother Vortigen (Jude Law) has taken the thrown after Uther is slayed by the same Mage who killed mommy dearest, but the tide has lowered revealing a magic sword in the stone sending everyone into a frenzy to pull it from it’s resting place.

Once Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is finally old enough to realize his destiny, he sets out to claim his rightful place as King with his band of merry men, err, Knights of the Eventual Round Table — Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Back Lack (Neil Maskell), Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Percival (Craig McGinlay), Kung Fu George (Tom Wu), oh, and Bill! (Aidan Gillen) — and a Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) of his own in tow.

If there’s one thing made clear, it’s that Disney is still the winner of the King Arthur adaptations. With no Merlin or sense of humor in sight — at least not after the first half hour — all audiences are left with are A Knight’s Tale outcasts with just enough rapport to make you wish the film was about them and not the boring Hunnam’s version of Arthur. There are so many issues with the film, most of them spoilery, so it’s really hard to tell where to lay blame for this fiasco. There apparently is an audience for the film based on some of my colleagues’ reactions. This King Arthur is not just one of the worst, it’s also one of Guy Ritchie’s worst. And this is the man who made Swept Away and Revolver! That should be just about all you need to know to make anyone fear stepping foot into a theater showing this waste of two hours. You can’t blame Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for its imminent demise, the film is every bit as bad as it looks, if not worse.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

***** out of 5
136 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive
Marvel Studios

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Ant-Man and Doctor Strange raised eyebrows when they were announced. But it was Guardians of the Galaxy that had its work cut out for it the most. Spotlighting a talking tree and a lovably maniacal raccoon, co-writer/director James Gunn had more to prove than anyone. We wound up with one of Marvel’s best entries to their Cinematic Universe — the MCU in geekspeak. A ragtag group of losers — Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) words, not mine — wound up saving the universe and proving that Marvel could mine gold out of the most offbeat titles imaginable.

Now, here comes Vol. 2 with an even bigger scope, bigger laughs, and bigger heart. Anyone worried about Gunn dishing up a case of sequelitis can rest their fears. Vol. 2 is one Marvel’s best films.

Kicking off in Missouri, Earth, 1980, we are whisked back in time to meet Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) and Ego (a spectacularly CGI-ed Kurt Russell). The two are madly in love and Ego takes her into the forest to show her something. Cut to 34 years later and we’re thrust into the Guardians’ latest shenanigan to protect a power source for the Sovereign, lead by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). Soon enough, they’re on the run from the Sovereign and are rescued by what Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) refers to as a one-inch man.

Peter and Rocket manage to crash land on Berhert where they’re followed by their mystery savior who just so happens to be Ego, Peter’s father. Now, Ego has taken Peter — along with Rocket, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Nebula (Karen Gillan) — to his planet, where Peter must come to terms with his heritage as part Celestial, while Ego’s resident Empath, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), harbors a secret. Oh, and Yondu (Michael Rooker) is also on the hunt for the Guardians and dealing with his own discretions and outcasting from the Ravagers.

Drax and Baby Groot completely steal the show this time around. Yondu and Ego also bring plenty of life to the galaxy. Don’t get me wrong, the entire cast is great, but Bautista, and Sean Gunn (brother of James and On-Set Rocket), are true showstoppers. The special effects are as amazing as we’ve come to expect — and even bigger with alternating aspect ratios returning for the IMAX version — but Gunn has clearly been entrusted to deliver the film he wanted to make. Loopy, goofy, full of heart, and gut-bustingly hysterical — with just a dash of gallows humor for good measure, he is, after all, cut from the Troma cloth — no one will leave dissatisfied.

Yes, there is the expected now-annoying Stan Lee cameo, and there are five end-credit scenes — the very last not worth the wait — but Vol. 2 is overstuffed in the best possible ways. The soundtrack is every bit as awesome as Vol. 1, even if not necessarily at first listen. The villain this outing — no spoilers here — is way better than Lee Pace’s Ronan, and while Thanos never makes an appearance, he’s still talked about quite a bit, foreshadowing some characters’ involvement with upcoming Marvel releases. It’s a great start to the year for Marvel.  Next up we have Spider-man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok to look forward to. For now, the Guardians are here to kick off the summer movie season in spectacular style.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Movie Review: “Free Fire”


Free Fire

** 1/2 out of 5
90 minutes
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

With how many film festivals there are throughout the year, many of the movies shown are never seen again. If it packs a good enough cast and a high profile producer, chances are better than others. In the case of Ben Wheatley’s wheezy action-comedy Free Fire, the cast is trying to have a good time, but there’s always something missing. There’s no spark to blast it into full fun mode, instead, it limps along most of the time, much like a lot of the characters caught in the crosshairs.

The plot is simple: a ragtag group of different level low lifes have gathered at an abandoned warehouse. Ord (Armie Hammer), has brought everyone together so that Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay) can sell firearms to Frank (Michael Smiley), Justine (Brie Larson), and Chris (Cillian Murphy). Turns out, Vernon has brought along a helping hand in the form of Harry (Jack Reynor) who beat up one of Frank’s crew — Stevo (Sam Riley) — the night before. Soon enough, ulterior motives pit everyone in a firefight, with no one to empathize with, in a fight to the finish.

Free Fire is striving to be the new Reservoir Dogs. Trouble is, Wheatley doesn’t have Quentin Tarantino’s flair for character and dialogue, leaving plenty of limp jokes flopping alongside disorientingly choreographed action. Sometimes a film can have too much action — as odd as it may seem to say — and this is where Free Fire makes its biggest mistake. It takes too long to get going, with no connection to the characters by the time bullets start flying, leaving you bored. If it weren’t for the likes of Larson, Hammer, and Reynor, we’d have absolutely no one to root for. Especially since Copley keeps proving that a little bit of him goes a long way. Ever since District 9 he’s just become more and more obnoxious and comes across as a name brand version of Rhys Darby. The difference is, Darby is always likeable.

The film also shouldn’t feel as long as it does when it’s merely 90 minutes, but long stretches of just yelling at each other takes its toll on your patience. And just when it feels like the action may start heating up, another pacing misfire makes shows how much runtime is left.

Wheatley made quite a name for himself after Sightseers premiered at Cannes back in 2012, but if this is all he has to offer five years and two films later, then he’s still got a long road ahead of him to live up to the hype. In fact, I just realized A Field in England was another style over substance episode for Wheatley. At least Free Fire is nowhere near as boring and unapologetically confusing as that one. So maybe he has learned a lesson or two. Hopefully, he’s learned a couple more here. Just because your film caught the eye of Martin Scorsese and he gave you money to put his name in the credits and help with distribution, doesn’t mean it was a worthy investment.

Free Fire is a misfire of a film that could have been so much fun. Instead it’s simply firing blanks.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Movie Review: “The Fate of the Furious”


The Fate of the Furious

**** out of 5
136 minutes
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

If there’s any franchise embracing its evolving lunacy, it’s The Fast and the Furious. With a new director comes new levels of redonkulous. With the passing of the baton from Justin Lin to James Wan and now F. Gary Gray, the series continues to show no signs of waning. Everything just keeps getting bigger, crazier, and even more physics-defying. It’s exactly what we fans want and The Fate of the Furious — or as it should be titled: The F8 of the Furious — delivers in spades.

If you want convoluted, never fear, writer Chris Morgan — singlehandedly responsible for the “screenplays” since Tokyo Drift (part 3) — has you covered! A cold opening finds Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) honeymooning in Havana — finding time to win a car race while driving backwards and the car on fire, no less. Soon enough, the maniacal Cipher (Charlize Theron) inspires Dom to turn his back on the family for reasons only he’s allowed to know.

Treason erupts after the crew — Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Parker (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) — are brought together by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to collect an EMP in Berlin. After Dom makes off with the device, Hobbs is captured and thrown in prison where Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new righthand man Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) try to recruit him to go after Dom who is working for Cipher. The two are on the hunt for — wait for it — nuclear launch codes from the Russians. Meanwhile, the prison stint forces Hobbs to work alongside his archnemesis Deckard (Jason Statham).

The Fate of the Furious is turn your brain off and ramp your testosterone levels to 11 entertainment of the highest order. One liners abound while each action sequence tries to outdo the previous. With the passing of Paul Walker, you would think that having fewer characters would help Morgan keep the shenanigans a little tighter. Instead, everything is bloated to a standard two hour-plus runtime with some major characters making surprise appearances. One of which is so unnecessary you forget they were even in the movie until you try to remember what happens to them.

I was a little worried with Gray taking the reins to be honest. The man has made some horrible films in the past — Be Cool and Law Abiding Citizen being the worst offenders — but this is at least his fourth best film yet. Straight Outta Compton and Friday are his best. But looking over his IMDB page you’ll see he’s at least worked with some of the crew before. And the gang’s mostly all here! It’s still horrible about Walker and his presence is missed. The beating heart has clearly been ripped from the center. All things considered, at least they found a way to keep the franchise moving along. This one ends on a cliffhanger which is no surprise since at least two more have already been announced.

Fans will find everything they love in fine form. Although, the two who work best together are The Rock and Statham. They seem to be the only ones in the cast who know how to fight and every time they’re onscreen together you can sense they’re having a raucous time working together. This should not come as a shock considering the highly publicized feud between Johnson and Diesel. But with Statham back in Transporter mode, facing off against The Rock and his ever-expanding biceps, you almost wish the film completely centered around them. As it stands, fans will revel in every gloriously nuckin’ futs minute.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Movie Review: “Gifted”


Gifted

**** 1/2
101 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It may be only April, but it’s been a pretty good year for film so far. Irregardless — a fantastic joke from the movie — leave it to director Marc Webb (both Amazing Spider-mans and (500) Days of Summer) to blast spring with a breath of fresh air anyway. Working with Tom Flynn’s touching and hilarious screenplay, along with the perfect duo of Chris Evans and 10-year-old Mckenna Grace, Gifted manages to be heartwarming without being sappy and full of laughs without having to dumb things down.

Frank Adler (Evans) lives a simple life. He repairs boats while homeschooling his niece Mary (Grace). But today is different: it’s Mary’s first day of first grade in the public school system. Against her will, Mary trudges onto the bus and is carried away where she meets her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate), who Mary instantly doesn’t like because she’s already proven herself lightyears ahead of her classmates. Soon enough, her intellect is found out — Mary’s mother was a genius, and so is she — and the Principal offers to pull strings to get Mary into a school for gifted children. Turns out, Mary isn’t the only one who’s smarter than they look and Frank winds up in a custody battle with his estranged mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan).

It’s films as good as Gifted where it’s hard to heap on the praise. However, if there are a few things that don’t necessarily work, it’s the casting of Slate and Octavia Spencer in what amount to throwaway roles. It’s a good thing Spencer is so damn likable no matter how small the screentime. Unfortunately, Slate gets the short stick and has the weakest character of the whole movie. But not even these extremely minor things can get in the way of Webb working his indie magic, making good on his acclaim after (500). If you need some real praise, take it from my wife. There’s a scene featuring Frank and Mary having a discussion silhouetted against a sunset where she turned to me and said, “If I wasn’t already pregnant, that would make me pregnant.” Gifted makes for a fantastic night at the movies where you can sit back, laugh, and feel all the feels.