Friday, February 26, 2016

Movie Review: “Gods of Egypt”

Gods of Egypt

Zero stars
127 minutes
Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, and some sexuality
Summit Entertainment

Article first published at

Nothing’s worse than when the movie gods are angry. I suppose after the phenomenal success Deadpool achieved, we were bound to be pummeled with at least one typically horrible February release. But no one ever could have predicted the awfulness of cult-favorite director Alex Proyas’s Gods of Egypt. Long gone are the glory days of The Crow and Dark City, and I, Robot looks like a masterpiece by comparison. I have never beared witness to Knowing and I hope I never have to.

It is mind-boggling to figure out what convinced, not just Proyas to direct, but for any studio to greenlight this trainwreck. In all honesty, my inner-teenager didn’t think it looked anywhere near as bad as what wound up on-screen. But my hopes were instantly dashed when I finally pulled the film up on IMDB and discovered it was from the same writers as Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter. Long story short, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless should be run out of Hollywood like Frankenstein’s Monster at a lakeside picnic.

The plot is a disaster, with a voiceover explaining how gods decided to live amongst the puny humans, towering above the mortals when they’re not being sponged bathed or transforming into their golden alter egos. On Horus’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) coronation day, his reign of King is not meant to be as his uncle Set (Gerard Butler) slays his brother and takes the throne. He also takes Horus’s eyes and Egypt is thrown into despair under Set’s rule. But the young Bek (Brenton Thwaites) wants to free his love Zaya (Courtney Eaton) and Horus agrees to help in return for his left eye and overthrowing Set for his rightful place as King.

Oy vey, what have the movie gods wrought upon us? There’s really not that much that be said for the dreck you’re in for if you buy a ticket. If the attendance at the press screening is of any indication, it will die a fast death at the box office — and rightfully so. Sazama and Sharpless have written one of the worst screenplays fathomable, and Proyas over directs beyond the point of camp. You can see the faintest inkling of a sense of humor amongst some of the actors — mainly Thwaites. And Geoffrey Rush as Ra, the God of the Sun, seems more than content with randomly bursting into flames when he’s not fighting outer space monsters from his spaceship.

Yup, you read that right, and it should tell you everything you need to know about Gods of Egypt. Just thinking about the film is enough to give me another headache — something you won’t leave without. At least it was’nt in 3D, but in all honesty, some of the effects may have gotten a boost from the third dimension. You could painfully tell when things are supposed to be flying at the screen. And to think the production budget is listed at $140 million, they should have used that money to keep it from ever getting made, because the studio will never recoup their costs on this flaming pile of dog turds.

Gods of Egypt is made with absolutely no audience in mind and simply races along from one painful action sequence to the next with an almost gleeful abandon to all common sense. Everything is just to get the characters from the start of the movie to the end credits, something that never come fast enough! I would suggest avoiding at all costs, but you were probably already planning on that anyway, and that will be the smartest thing anyone could do.

Movie Review: “Eddie the Eagle”

Eddie the Eagle

**** out of 5
105 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking
20th Century Fox
I’m a great example of how far the apple can fall from the tree. My grandpa was a skier, my dad and his two brothers skied, my own two brothers both ski, and then there’s me. I love movies. That could be just a small part of why I enjoyed Eddie the Eagle, about a ski jumper in the 1988 Olympics, as much as I did. There must be some tiny seed planted in there, right? Admittedly, I’ve only ever been skiing once. And I spent the entire time hanging out at the ski lodge eating McNuggets. Athletic I am not. Fan of a good underdog story? You bet I am! And so it came to be that Eddie manages to be not just a crowd pleaser, but also a damn fine bit of entertainment to boot.

We meet young Michael “Eddie” Edwards in 1973 with dreams of grandeur and a lunch box full of broken glasses. His mother (Jo Hartley) loves her dear Eddie and encourages him at every turn while his working-class father (Keith Allen) wants him to throw in the towel and join the family business. But Eddie — played as an adult by Taron Egerton — will never stop pursuing his destiny of becoming an Olympic athlete. Eventually, he packs up a bag and heads off to Germany to train, much to the chagrin of fallen from grace Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman). Now, Eddie must try to win over Peary to teach him how to be the ski jumper only he knows he can be, while Peary just wants to keep him from breaking his neck.

As with all true stories, there’s no bother trying to wiggle around spoilers. Eddie quickly becomes known as “Eddie the Eagle” at the 1988 Olympics and the biggest phenomenon of the entire games. Director Dexter Fletcher may be more familiar for being in front of the camera, but his love for Eddie shines through in every scene. Combined with Jackman, Egerton carries the entire weight of the film on his shoulders, proving that he’s more than the Kingsman we all know and love. Screenwriters Sean Macauley and Simon Kelton also make smashing debuts, keeping the film bouncing along as infectiously as the grin on Eddie’s face.

Thankfully, Eddie never becomes a caricature and the film doesn’t get bogged down with dramatics. Eddie himself has a self deprecating demeanor which goes a long way in keeping the audience along for the ride. Eddie the Eagle is a smashing good time for all, with Egerton in particular giving a fantastic performance. While you may already know the story, it’s fun to see how it all came together. Inspiration is at full throttle making Eddie one of the most fun movies of the year so far!

Movie Review: “Triple 9”

Triple 9

**** out of 5
115 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity
Open Road Films

Sometimes the best films can emerge victorious from development hell. Triple 9 may not have suffered as greatly as others along the way to the big screen, but it’s still hard to believe that it took six years for John Hillcoat to get it to theaters. With a rotating cast along the way, Hillcoat has managed to get a fantastic ensemble together to deliver the year’s first edge of your seat thriller. It certainly helps that screenwriter Matt Cook provides a screenplay full of high tension and plenty of twists and turns before we finally arrive at the last man standing.

The First City Bank in Atlanta, Georgia has just been robbed. With the Russian mafia’s stranglehold on the city, it’s not surprising that the robbers pretend to have Spanish accents. What is surprising is that our gang of thieves are all cops. Brothers Russel and Gabe Welch (Norman Reedus and Aaron Paul), Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), and Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) are high off their latest score. Kingpin Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) wants them to perform one more job.

In true MacGuffin fashion, they start to stage a plan involving a 999 incident (officer down) and Marcus’s unsuspecting new partner, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck). Chris happens to be nephew of Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson) who is hot on their case. A few subplots abound with Michael having a personal connection to Irina who is basically holding his son hostage, while he’s having relations with her sister Elena (Gal Gadot). And Gabe starts to have second thoughts to their latest plan.

John Hillcoat may not be the most prolific director, but he does gritty with the best of them. From The Proposition to The Road to Lawless to Triple 9, the man knows how to make a stark, yet mostly entertaining, slowburner. The only film of his I am not a fan of is The Road, but that would fill an entire review itself. As for the rest of his resume, Triple 9 is another humdinger. Nail-biting and keeps you guessing right up until the end, it’s filled with bursts of action that will leave you breathless and trying to catch it at the same time.

The cast all perform terrifically with Winslet in particular continuing her chameleonesque roles as of late. At least she’s more recognizable here than she was in Steve Jobs. In that one I didn’t even know she was in the movie until the credits rolled, and she’s just as good here, if not a bit underused. But this isn’t her show, this one is for the boys and they’re all fantastic together creating a squad of hoodlums you actually don’t mind hanging around with when they aren’t knocking down banks. Triple 9 is a fantastic thriller and is far better than its February release would make you think. Do not miss this one, it’s an engaging ride from start to finish full of character actors doing what they do best, with a director pulling the strings like a pro.

Blu-ray Review: “Crimson Peak”

Movie: **** 1/2
Video: *****
Audio: *****
Extras: *** 1/2

Article first published on Blogcritics.

Not many directors can get away with style over substance these days. Unless your name is Guillermo del Toro. Granted, most of his screenplays are filled with as much depth as his production design, sometimes the design itself drives the film. And now, Crimson Peak — his latest visual triumph — is finally on home video for fans to embrace Allerdale Hall in all its HD splendor in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack from Universal Home Entertainment.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) believes that ghosts are real ever since her recently departed mother appeared to warn her, “Beware of Crimson Peak” as a child. All grown up now, she lives a privileged life with her father Carter (Jim Beaver) and has big dreams of one day becoming a published author. She likes writing stories that have ghosts in them, but publishers are looking for mere ghost stories.

After Edith meets Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), he whisks her away to England after the tragic death of her father, to live at the decrepit Allerdale Hall with Tom and his too-close-for-comfort sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). It won’t be long before the terrifying truth of Crimson Peak comes calling, with Edith caught in a game of cat-and-mouse between the living and the dead.

Universal delivers Crimson Peak on Blu-ray with a jaw-dropping transfer. Even with a multitude of special features, the 50GB disc gives the film plenty of life in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are spectacularly bold with blacks inky with just a touch of intentional crush. Del Toro knows what he’s doing with his visual flair on full display. Detail is exceptional while banding and aliasing are nowhere to be found.

The 7.1 DTS:X track is also an auditory feat. Music and special effects pan from one speaker to the next while dialogue is never drowned out, with prioritization in full effect. Bass keeps the goosebumps rising throughout. Additional audio tracks include DTS Headphone:X 2.0, DVS Dolby Digital, along with Spanish and French 5.1 DTS Surround. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.

As with all Del Toro pictures, there is a wealth of special features included. While not quite as in depth as his Criterion releases, at least they weren’t skimped over. An audio commentary is included with Del Toro offering way more technical information than most directors. His usual anecdotes are included, along with the expected foul language. Listening to his commentaries is always a treat — and here is no different. The man is one of the most scholared filmmakers working today; do not hesitate to listen.

A collection of “Deleted Scenes” all could have been cut right back in and probably add character moments that would resonate with the naysayers. “The Park” (1:00) offers an additional bit of footage with Charlie Hunnam’s Dr. Alan McMichael joining Edith, Thomas, and Lucille for a lunch in the park. “Thomas’ Presentation” (0:54) reveals that Carter was more impressed with it than in the final cut. “Father Consoles Daughter” (0:45) is blink and you’ll miss it with Carter trying to ease Thomas’s rejection. “Thomas Sees a Ghost” (0:49) is self explanatory, as is “Lucille at the Piano” (0:59).

Seven featurettes cover everything you could have wanted to know about the making of Crimson Peak, offering glimpses behind the practical/visual effects to the set design. “I Remember Crimson Peak” (4:06) takes us down “The Gothic Corridor” which acts as a ghost generator for the story, there’s always something spooky waiting for us at the end. “A Primer on Gothic Romance” (5:36) gives Del Toro the chance to explain that the film stems more from a literary aspect and separates itself from gothic horror with romance vs. ghosts and Edith’s dark right of passage.

“The Light & Dark of Crimson Peak” (7:53) is a visual breakdown of Buffalo, New York, versus Allerdale Hall in England through the use of blacks, cyan, amber, and of course, red. “Hand Tailored Gothic” (8:58) gives the costume designs their due, including the names of Edith’s dresses and how Lucille’s clothes mirror the house. “A Living Thing” (12:11) gives a peek at the original model used to set up shots along with how long it took to build: October 2013 to February 2014.

“Beware of Crimson Peak” (7:51) is an up close and personal tour of the set with Hiddleston as our guide. We also get to see Wasikowska performing her own stunt when Lucille pushes Edith over a bannister. And finally, “Crimson Phantoms” (7:02) is a look at the spectral creations and how they used Doug Jones and Hiddleston in full costumes to create the ultra-realistic ghosts that haunt the house.

Crimson Peak was a misunderstood release. Just because it was released for Halloween and features Del Toro’s name on it, doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be the scariest film of the year — even if the trailers were. It never mislead audiences; I think they just went in with the wrong expectations. As it stands, Crimson Peak is a fantastic fairytale for adults about a young woman trying to find her place in the world, facing danger where she leasts expects it. The cast is amazing even if the house manages to steal the show. Featuring exemplary visual/audio, with a wealth of special features, hopefully Crimson Peak can find the fans it deserves on home video in a Blu-ray package worth a blind buy for those who didn’t catch it in theaters.

Blu-ray Review: “Turbo Kid”

Movie: ***** out of 5
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: **** 1/2
Extras: *** 1/2

Article first published on Blogcritics.

During the 2015 Sundance Film Festival I was invited to attend the Turbo Kid premiere party. I decided to attend even though I hadn’t seen the film yet. Had I seen it beforehand, the party would have been a complete blast — because that’s exactly what the film is. Wildly over-the-top and full of heart and laughs, Turbo Kid is the best ’80s movie not made in the ’80s.

I knew I was in for a treat right from the disc start up, with bad tracking and synth music blaring, the film consumed me with nostalgia before I even hit play. Thankfully, Turbo Kid kept up its level of genius through the entire runtime, with a new ’80s classic born — even if made today. Co-writers/co-directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell deliver a knockout blast of fun. Available now at the film’s online store or as an exclusive Steelbook on Amazon.

In the “Wastelands” of 1997, The Kid (Munro Chambers) is living on his own, scavenging for items on his trusty BMX bike, that he can trade for water. The Kid has been on his own ever since the sociopathic ruler of the Wastelands Zeus (Michael Ironside) kills his parents. After The Kid meet cutes Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) in a park, the two wind up on the adventure of their lives after The Kid finds a Power Glove that he can use to take down Zeus and his team of minions lead by Skeletron (Edwin Wright). Along with the help of the one-armed arm wrestler Frederic (Aaron Jeffery) and the resourceful Bagu (Romano Orzari), only they can put a stop to the tyranny of evil and save the Wastelands.

Turbo Kid blasts onto Blu-ray in a “3-Disc Ultra Turbo-Charged Collector’s Edition” from Epic Pictures. As is standard with Epic releases, the film looks spectacular thanks to the bulk of the disc giving the image room to breathe. All of the special features are on a third DVD so all that’s left is the film, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, and a commentary. Detail is razor sharp making sure every fine detail is visible. Blacks are nice and solid with no crush in sight. Banding never finds its way into the background and aliasing is non-existent. As for the audio, Turbo Kid may feel like an ’80s VHS classic, but it never sounds like one. Bass is deep with plenty of directionality and surrounds infusing the perfect ambience to the post-apocalyptic soundscape. Additional audio options include English 5.1 Dolby Digital, 2.0 English Dolby Stereo, and 1 French Dolby Digital. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are also included.

As I mentioned, the special features are all delegated to DVD disc so none of them are in HD. The original T is for Turbo short (5:34) keeps the tone of the feature intact and was submitted as a segment for the horror anthology ABCs of Death. It features a lot of gags that wound up in the full length film, but it’s still fun to see how it all began. “Bloody Wasteland: The Making of Turbo Kid” (23:10) is a lot of fun as we get a nice look behind the making of the film with producer Jason Eisener (ABCs of Death, Hobo with a Shotgun) and the directors explaining that the film is essentially a “Bugs Bunny for adults” and they couldn’t be more right. They also talk about their love of video stores, a place where Turbo Kid would’ve been rented countless times by myself had it been made back in the glory day of VHS. A full French audio commentary is also included.

Seven “Mini Docs” are basically super short “Making of Teasers” with footage from the “Making Of”: “Fantasia” (1:19), “Gore” (1:39), “Stunt” (1:24), “Funny” (1:07), “The Kid” (1:16), “Apple” (1:14), and “Zeus” (1:03). Three different film festivals are featured with the directing team introducing their film — recorded by Jonathan Bunning — at the following: BIFFF (Brussels – European Premiere — 6:57), Edinburgh (UK Premiere — 5:18), and Sitges (5:30). Also included is the “Official Trailer” (1:45) and a bunch of “Galleries”: “Stills & Design” (4:30), “Fan Art” (3:50), and “The Ride.” There are also trailers for Tales of Halloween and Nina Forever.

Turbo Kid is a breath of fresh air and will make even the most hardened fans cheer throughout. This is the kind of film that deserves a cult following. Finally landing on home video — simultaneously on Netflix for those with the streaming service — this is a film you need to watch immediately. Anyone who says they don’t make’em like they used to, aren’t looking in the right places. Full of bloody geysers, characters you can root for, and enough nostalgia to make your head spin, Turbo Kid isn’t just worth a look, it’s something you’ll want in your collection. Not even just for yourself, but for it to be passed around like a cherished VHS tape for all of your friends to enjoy as well.

Blu-ray Review: “Freaks of Nature”

Movie: *** 1/2 out of 5
Video: ****
Audio: ****
Extras: ** 1/2

Article first published on Blogcritics.

The most recent examples of mixed monsters are the atrocious Van Helsing and four Underworld films — with an Underworld reboot on the way, which no one wants. So how does the new horror/comedy Freaks of Nature get away with combining humans, vampires, and zombies who fight their way through an alien invasion? It certainly helps to have a game screenplay and cast.

I hadn’t looked up Oren Uziel before watching the film and, during the opening credits, I noticed the film was executive produced by Jonah Hill. Suddenly, it clicked. Uziel is a co-writer of 22 Jump Street — one of the funniest comedy sequels of all time — so shenanigans have to ensue, right? Mostly. It gets a little caught up in the character elements, which tends to slow down the pacing. For the most part, there is plenty onscreen in Freaks of Nature to give horror fans exactly what they want. And it’s available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in a Blu-ray/Ultraviolet combo pack.

In the town of Dillford, Ohio, humans, zombies, and vampires have been living in undead harmony for years. After the town was infested with creatures, it became obvious that everyone could get along, even if it requires such extremes as zombies wearing shock collars to keep them from biting humans. That is until an alien apocalypse approaches and now human teenagers Dag (Nicholas Braun) and Lorelei (Vanessa Hudgens) must find a way to stop the aliens from invading. Aided by newly-transformed vampire Petra (Mackenzie Davis) and just-turned zombie Ned (Josh Fadem), they must band together if they want to make it through the night alive.

Sony delivers Freaks of Nature in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio on a 50GB disc with a sprinkling of special features to keep the transfer from suffering through the motions. With many action-oriented sequences, the film could have been a mess if squeezed onto a smaller disc. As it stands, it has plenty of room to breathe, never showing signs of banding, aliasing, noise, or crush. Colors are bright and bold giving plenty of shine to the splattering blood, and detail is always present. With plenty of sharpness on hand, it sometimes sheds light on some of the cheaper effects. It makes good on the practical end of things, but does also causes the wonky CGI to stick out on occasion.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also a lively affair. Although being a comedy first, it is a front heavy mix. But when the action kicks in, dialogue is never drowned out and there’s plenty of bass to keep it moving. Additional language tracks include a Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD, along with French, Spanish, and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles include English, Chinese, French, Indonesian/Bahasa, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.

The special features are short and sweet. An “Alternate Opening” (2:37) should have been kept in the final cut as it explains how the town came to be and leads right into the actual beginning. A “Gag Reel” (3:40) is an extended version of what’s shown in the end credits. Two “Deleted Scenes” include “You’ll Be Making Me Happy” (0:57) which shows more of Keegan-Michael Key clowning around with Fadem, and “I’m a Dog Boy” (3:02) is an alternate ending that actually feels way more like an ending than what’s including. Chances are, test audiences resulted in reshoots and the final ending was tacked on after the fact. It’s way too quick and easy.

Freaks of Nature gets a lot of mileage out of its cast. Braun, Davis, and Fadem make a likeable trio — I’m sure you can guess why Hudgens didn’t make the cut of this sentence. And as fantastic as the supporting cast is — Key, Denis Leary, Bob Odenkirk, Joan Cusack, Rachael Harris, Mae Whitman, Patton Oswalt, and Ian Roberts — it’s honestly the little things that help make the film better than it could have been. With tons of visual gags and background jokes littered about, keen eyed viewers will get a kick out of the film — especially when Fadem and Key are in the teacher’s lounge.

Director Robbie Pickering never sticks to neither a character-oriented film nor a splatterfest, and the results can sometimes be a little jarring. But for what it’s worth, Freaks of Nature features a great video/audio combo to keeps the laughs flying and ensures anyone interested won’t be left wanting more. It is what it is — a horror comedy — and for a straight-to-video affair, it’s way better than average.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Movie Review: “How to Be Single”

How to Be Single

** out of 5
110 minutes
Rated R for sexual content and strong language throughout
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

Is it really that hard to make a good romantic comedy? Not to discredit the target audience, but they deserve better. While there are some fantastic titles in the genre — (500) Days of Summer, Sleepless in Seattle, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Say Anything, most of John Hughes’s resume, even Old Hollywood could crank them out: see pretty much anything starring Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, or Audrey and Katharine Hepburn  — they certainly feel few and far between. Alas, the deck was stacked against How to Be Single even before I sat down.

With a likeable cast — who have all done far better work — director Christian Ditter and his gaggle of writers (Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, and Dana Fox) have delivered one of the most scattershot rom-coms of the bunch. Packed full of coincidences and forced farce, leave it to the character with the smallest amount of screentime to walk away unscathed. He may be a Wayans, but Damon Wayans Jr. is the only sympathetic character who’s clearly saddled into this mess because they hadn’t found a way to get the audience to cry yet. He’s seriously that unnecessary. But critics be damned, it’s bound to pull in a decent amount of cash this weekend. All the single ladies will be needing something to see while all the single boys are at Zoolander 2 and the smartest crowds are helping fund the Deadpool sequel that can’t come fast enough.

What little story there is revolves around poor Alice (Dakota Johnson). After she meet-cutes her boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun), we flash forward four years and they’re in the midst of a breakup. Alice wants to get to know herself better because she’s never been alone so she heads out to the Big Apple to live with her sister Meg (Leslie Mann). She finds solace with her wild co-worker Robin (Rebel Wilson) who just wants to party all night and sleep with anything that moves.

Side stories involve Meg being sought after in Cougar Town by the boyish Ken (Jake Lacy). Tom (Anders Holm) tries to keep his feelings locked up toward dating site algorithm-guru Lucy (Alison Brie) who thinks that there’s the perfect man out there for her if she can just use the right search words. All this while David (Wayans Jr.) is shoehorned in as a grieving widower dealing with how to talk to his daughter about her mother’s death. It’s a little exasperating and extremely hard to follow. You almost need a scorecard to keep track of everyone. Or turn it into a drinking game where you have to take a shot anytime you have to question what the hell is going on.

The cast does their best to keep the pace chugging along while Ditter drowns the audience in montage after montage. Just about the only break we get is any time Lucy is on screen with the love of her life George (Jason Mantzoukas). The two are hilarious together and have fantastic comedic chemistry. This should come as no surprise since the two were last seen together in the far better Sleeping with Other People. Now that is a good romantic-comedy. Skip How to Be Single and run out and rent Sleeping with Other People. It deserves a far bigger fan base, seriously, go now!

As for this jumbled mess, it comes as no surprise considering the screenwriters assembled to patchwork Liz Tuccillo’s novel for the big screen. I present the following offenses for the jury: Exhibit A) Kohn and Silverstein are both responsible for Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day, and The Vow; while Fox “treated” us to The Wedding Date, What Happens in Vegas, and Couple’s Retreat. It’s clearly evident that they were brought on because they have friends behind, and in front of, the camera. Kohn and Silverstein in producer Drew Barrymore, with Fox having written for the sadly canceled — and way better than this film — Ben and Kate which also starred Johnson. It’s fine if friends want to work together — the Apatow crew has been delivering the goods for years now — but please make it worthwhile for the audience.

Unfortunately, every single person involved is guilty of false advertising — especially the marketing department at Warner Bros. How to Be Single has gone out of its way to look like another wacky R-rated comedy in the vein of Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids. All we’re left with here is another hodgepodge of mediocrity that honestly could have been better with a few rewrites. Instead, we’re following the bouncing ball from one page of the screenplay to the other with coherency tossed to the wind. I’m sure it’ll make a big enough splash opening weekend, but there’s no way anyone will want to revisit the land of First World Problems and entitlement. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, simply skip this and stay home for a girl’s night with some pizza and Sleeping with Other People and you can thank me later.

Movie Review: “Zoolander 2”

Zoolander 2

**** out of 5
102 minutes
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong lanaguage
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at

Love it or hate it, the original Zoolander is a bona fide comedy cult classic. And now, after 15 years of development, Zoolander 2 is here for us to behold in all its wacky glory. The first film actually opened to a tiny bit of controversy — this one has already seen its fair share — some people were appalled that a wide Hollywood release would focus its plot on a conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia in an effort to keep child labor laws in the fashion industry’s favor. Even Roger Ebert (RIP) maligned it as another excuse why the rest of the world hates America, missing out on the absurdity of the entire premise. Yet, here we are, 15 years later, and Ben Stiller returns to one of his most beloved/hated characters in a sequel that some will find does not live up to expectations.

Beginning in Rome, Justin Bieber has  been whacked outside of a safehouse. Bieber’s death is just the latest in a string of celebrity murders who have all died with the same look on their face. Now, the Interpol Fashion Police are hot on the case with Valentina (Penelope Cruz) on the hunt for Derek Zoolander (Stiller) who may hold the key to who’s behind the assassinations. Living life as a reclusive hermit crab, Derek is brought out of hiding after receiving a mysterious invitation to be the star of Alexanya Atoz’s “IncrediBall” — along with his Netflix discs, delivered by none other than Billy Zane himself!

Meanwhile, Hansel (Owen Wilson) has also been invited and the two of them must settle their differences after the collapse of the “Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good” caused the death of Matilda (Christine Taylor) and left Hansel permanently disfigured. Now, Derek, Hansel, and Valentina, must find out who’s behind the slaughter of the really really really ridiculously good looking celebrities, all while Derek is also trying to prove himself a functioning member of society to win back his estranged son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), and get over the fact that his son has grown up to be plus-sized.

Anyone who takes these movies seriously for even a second shouldn’t even try. This is, and always was, check your brain at the door entertainment of the highest order and never pretends to be anything more than that. Yes, there is an over reliance on recycled jokes — but the jokes are still hilarious as ever. The wordplay may not be quite as clever, and there are a few stretches where there aren’t even any real jokes on hand. If you’re a fan of the first, you should love what Stiller — along with co-writers Justin Theroux (reprising his Evil DJ role), John Hamburg, and Nicholas Stoller — have managed to deliver. Especially when you consider that the first film should be past its expiration date.

Thankfully, there is a lot to love in Zoolander 2. The plot is more of a giallo this time around and the celebrity cameos are as funny as ever. While you may wince over Katy Perry, she’s followed up with the funniest Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo ever. Kristen Wiig may feel shortchanged — it’s always hilarious to see her and Will Ferrell on screen together — but even Mugatu only shows up in the finale. Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney is almost a nuisance as a hipster fashion designer. And while some have already balked at the Benedict Cumberbatch character “All,” what they’ve seen is, of course, out of context. Characters like his are meant to show how out of touch the other characters really are, All hermself is never the err… butt of the joke.

The good news is that Zoolander is back and as funny as ever in a sequel that was worth the wait. This is one film that is really really really ridiculously entertaining.

Movie Review: “Deadpool”


***** out of 5
108 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity
20th Century Fox

Article first published at

If there’s any comicbook character desperately in need of cinematic redemption, it’s Deadpool. After a dismal outing in Fox’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it took a matter of fan power and Ryan Reynolds to bring him back to the big screen the way he was meant to be seen. Foul-mouthed, outlandishly violent, and breaking the fourth wall with aplomb, this is the Deadpool we’ve been waiting for. It certainly helps that Fox had the balls to deliver a hard-R rating, allowing director Tim Miller to deliver the year’s best film so far and an all around amazing antihero/superhero film for the ages.

Deadpool (Reynolds) begins with the best opening credit sequence of all time. Right in the middle of a giant action sequence, we’re caught up to speed from Deadpool aka Wade Wilson himself as we learn that he’s on the hunt for the film’s “British Bad Guy” Francis aka Ajax (Ed Skrein). Francis is the only one who can help him return to normal after an experiment unleashed his mutant power of regeneration.

Wade was diagnosed with cancer and promised a cure. Turns out, that cure turned him into a scarred vigilante extraordinaire. Deadpool’s endless slaughter has caught the attention of Professor X — we never learn if it’s Stewart or McAvoy — and now Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) have been tasked with bringing him back to the Professor. But not before Deadpool sets out on revenge after Francis kidnaps the love of his life, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).

Audiences are in for a treat with Deadpool. Overflowing with some of the most insane action sequences — thanks to the R rating — and hilarious zingers, this will hold up as one of the best comic book films of the year. Considering the gluttony of movies in mere months — Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad, Doctor Strange — we are living in a new world of entertainment of the highest order. We’re freaking spoiled. “First World Problems” am I right? Anyone who complains that there’s nothing good playing in theaters can rest easy this Valentine’s Day weekend because even your significant other will find plenty to love in Deadpool.

And I haven’t even mentioned the giant, beating heart coursing through the film. Reynolds and Baccarin have smoldering chemistry and it’s about time we really rooted for an antihero. Last year we got the return of Mad Max, but Deadpool would give the man a serious beat down. And even show Furiosa a thing or two about revenge. Deadpool is blisteringly scathing to the funny bone and truly stands on its own amongst all the comicbook films before and after as one of the best. Fox is counting on us true believers, if Deadpool makes all the chimichangas, there will be plenty more tacos to come. And that my friends, is reason enough. I can only imagine how much better future installments can be with a bigger budget. Fox put its faith behind this and so should you. Do not miss it — just make sure to leave the kids at home.

*In true Marvel fashion there are end credit stingers so make sure you stick around. I’ve only seen one of them and can’t wait to see the film again to see what they held back.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Movie Review: “Hail, Caesar!”

Hail, Caesar!

**** 1/2 out of 5
106 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking
Universal Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

The Coen brothers are probably the most idiosyncratic directors working today. Joel and Ethan have been delivering nothing but consistent work ever since they made a huge splash with their clever noir Blood Simple. Even what some might consider their lesser work have more brilliance per frame than most directors who rely on quantity over quality. They include: The Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, and Burn After Reading. What they all have most in common is their dependence on comedy.

While their more serious flare is more widely recognized — especially when it comes to awards season — you’re never hurting for entertainment watching a Coen brothers title. And now, with Hail, Caesar!, they’re at it again. As another love letter to Old Hollywood, their unabiding love of classic filmmaking shines through better than ever. This may be their most “inside” picture yet, but it’s deliriously funny at times, even if some may find the plot a little meandering.

At Capitol Pictures, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the man with the plan. A studio fixer, he’s always around to keep the well-oiled machine running no matter what cog gets thrown in the wheel. His latest conundrum is the disappearance of their biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is being held for ransom by “The Future.” Meanwhile, he’s tackling everything else thrown in his path from covering up the husbandless star DeeAnna Moran’s (Scarlett Johansson) pregnancy to director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) dealings with cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) to the endless barrage of twin columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton on double duty) trying to find a scoop on Whitlock’s extracurricular activities. All this while facing a possible career change for the sake of his family.

If anything, nobody does screwball as well as the Coens. They plow through every film with aplomb, never caring whether a scene may feel like it’s running too long. Let’s just say that if you find yourself wondering where something may be going, they deliver one of the best payoff scenes in a while. Their gigantic cast is having the time of their lives, even if George Clooney is playing a more spastic version of his typical characters. Channing Tatum may feel underused, but winds up being an even better plot twist than he did in The Hateful Eight. You’ll never see it coming. And even Frances McDormand — wife of Joel — is in only one scene and it’s the best thing in the movie. It reminds me of the accidental inhaler shooting from Intolerable Cruelty and will go down as one of the funniest scenes of the year.

While some may be questioning the February release date, Hail, Caesar! is no slouch. It’s every bit as hilarious as you’d expect from the Coen brothers. Never deserving to be brushed off as a mere trifle on their resumes, this star-studded affair has their trademark wit coursing through its veins. It even finds a moment or two to get in some Trumbo-esque jabs at the Hollywood system. Let’s just say that they’re making a poignant point with who makes up “The Future.” To say the Coen brothers have never made a bad film is an understatement and Hail, Caesar! may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but mark my words, the film is endlessly entertaining and deliciously absurd in all the right ways. Considering how stale January was, Caesar is a huge leap forward for the year and should not be missed. Hail, Caesar! indeed.

Sundance 2016 Film Reviews: ‘The Greasy Strangler’ and ‘The Lure’

The Greasy Strangler: Zero stars
The Lure: *** 1/2

Article first published on Blogcritics.

Plenty of WTF films that come out of the Sundance Film Festival every year. I managed to see two, and one happens to be way better than the other.

Not everyone can be John Waters. His brand of filth will always be genius and no one should ever try to live up to him —  I’m talking to you writer/director Jim Hosking. Taking the cake for worst film of the 2016 program, The Greasy Strangler will no doubt go down in a blaze of glory for its awfulness. The film’s publicists are even trying to spin the bad word-of-mouth — most notably The Hollywood Reporter and Variety — by making fake ads sporting their “rave” reviews. Whatever you’ve heard about the film, it’s undeniably worse. Unless you like subjecting yourself to horrible acting and prosthetic penises.

As a short film, Hosking — along with his too-willing stars (Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, and Elizabeth De Razzo) — this sordid trash could have been the hit the director thinks it is. There may be a manic glee to Hosking’s debauchery, but it gets so repetitive that you start to wonder if the film started over halfway through. How this started a bidding war is beyond me. It’s probably because Elijah Wood’s name is attached as producer.

For what it’s worth, the best way to describe the film is trying to imagine if Jared Hess directed a John Waters-reject script and threw in a few instances of Troma-style kills. Trust me, whatever you just conjured up in your own head is way better than any of Hosking’s on-screen depravity.

Avoid at all costs. Considering I have no idea who the target audience is, I think it might be safer to say that whatever studio plumped down their money should lock all the prints in a crate and drop it off a seaside cliff Creepshow-style to keep anyone from ever having to sit through it.

On the flip side, The Lure is hands down the most bonkers film I saw. A Polish musical about murderous mermaids Silver (Michalina Olszanska) and Gold (Marta Mazurek), it never skimps on the music, blood, or nudity. I was a little scared about the actresses ages — thankfully both actresses are in their 20s — considering they spend a lot of the film in their birthday suits. But alas, the film has a sweetness to its vengeful story of two mermaid sisters who get caught up in a Warsaw dance club band.

If there’s any real problem with The Lure it’s that it never makes up its mind about what kind of musical it wants to be. It bounces around from rock opera to one huge choreographed number and then to a Chicago-style “mind’s eye.” Cinematographer Kuba Kijowski keeps things bright and flashy, but sometimes it also feels like there were chunks of the film left on the cutting room floor. Choreographers Kaya Kolodziejczyk, Jaroslaw Staniek, and Betty Q keep the musical numbers the spectacles they should be, even if some of the lyrics don’t really do much to move the plot along.

What plot there is, director Agnieszka Smoczyńska carries her cast through Robert Bolesto’s screenplay at a rapid fire pace. Mazurek and Olszanska keep the viewer titillated enough to make up for some of the dopier aspects — like run ins with Triton who wants to steal one of the sisters away, while the other is caught up in a love affair with one of the band members. The Lure may not be perfect, but it’s definitely set on becoming a new cult classic. Oddly enough, this one isn’t featured in the Midnight section but in the World Dramatic. That’s probably  because it’s so much better than The Greasy Strangler that it would be unfair to lump them side-by-side. And, considering this is Smoczyńska’s first film, I can only imagine where her career will go from here.

Photos courtesy Sundance Institute

Sundance 2016 Film Reviews: ‘The Lobster,’ ‘Other People,’ ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople,’ and ‘Operation Avalanche’

The Lobster: **** out of 5
Other People: **** 1/2
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: *****
Operation Avalanche: ****

Article first published on Blogcritics.

Thankfully, not everything that plays the Sundance Film Festival is soaked in drama. Plenty of comedies can whet our appetite — even if some of them can’t help but keep the dramatic flare. There are also those that hold the potential to be watched through “Sundance Goggles,” meaning sometimes when watched after their festival run, they just don’t hold up. I don’t think any of these will fall victim to that this year.

The Lobster may seem the most out of place, considering it’s being released in the U.K. on home video next month and has been playing other festivals since last May. So it makes sense that it’s playing as part of the Spotlight section, which focuses on films that have been getting lots of play around the world. Colin Farrell stars as David in co-writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos’s absurd comedy. In the future, there’s a hotel for single people where they have the chance to either find love within a few weeks, or wind up getting turned into the animal of their choice. For David, he’s chosen the titular animal and has brought along his brother who previously didn’t make it and was turned into a dog.

Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou keep the gags flying at a rapid pace and even throw in some gallows humor. The Lobster is a fantastic dark comedy, something we don’t see as often as we used to. It almost feels like it could have originally been a Monty Python bit, but Lanthimos never breaks his own rules. Some may be put off by the ambiguous ending — just remember the opening scene of the film and you should be able to put the pieces together. It’s not as strange as you might think. Bound to play art houses stateside, it’s worth checking out if it happens to be playing nearby.

What would Sundance be without a good dramedy, right? This year, writer/director Chris Kelly wrings the laughter and the tears from even the most hardened viewer with the cancer-comedy Other People. While not your typical leading man, Jesse Plemons pulls away from character actor and carries the film admirably. It helps that he’s surrounded by such a fantastic cast. With Molly Shannon as his dying mother, Bradley Whitford as his homophobic father, and Maude (daughter of Judd) Apatow as one of his neglected sisters, everyone gets a chance to shine.

While some may not appreciate the film careening from hilarity to saccharin at the drop of a hat, that’s life. Kelly brings his comic sensibilities from the small screen (Saturday Night Live, Broad City) to the big screen in a fantastic debut. Shannon may steal the show as we slowly watch her slip away over the course of a year, but Plemons plays off her beautifully — showing a real mother/son relationship as he watches his best friend wither away. Packed full of laughs and tears, Other People will go down as one of the year’s best dramedies, and could even earn Shannon at least a Golden Globe nomination next year, if not maybe an Oscar nom. She’s come a long way from SNL and just keeps getting better.

The funniest and best of the bunch — not to mention my favorite of the whole festival — is writer/director Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Returning to Sundance for the fourth time, including 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi makes another stellar solo outing that fits more in line with his first two Sundance films Boy and Eagle vs Shark. Quirky, heartfelt, hilarious, visually grand, and a just plain joy to watch, this will stand as not just one of the festival’s best films, but as one of the year’s best as well.

Julian Dennison makes an auspicious debut as Ricky — a real bad egg — who keeps getting shuffled around from home to home, finally landing in the care of Bella (Rima Te Wiata). At first he’s not so fond of living so far out in the bush, but soon learns to love it, even while dealing with the curmudgeonly Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). After Bella dies, Ricky decides he’s running away from it all and Uncle Hec heads out to look for him. After Hec fractures his ankle, a manhunt ensues after the local authorities think that Hec may have taken Ricky out into the wildlands to get rid of him.

The cast all work splendidly together creating real rapport. It certainly helps that Waititi has crafted such a fantastic screenplay giving everyone plenty of chances to bowl you over with laughter. Not to give anything anyway, but there are at least two films playing the festival this year with a dog winding up dead and only this one will manage to make you actually cry about it. Waititi even gets his own chance to shine as a hilarious priest. Considering Waititi’s films just keep getting better, I can only imagine the stamp he’s going to make on the third Thor film. Ragnarok can’t come fast enough at this point. Keep your eyes peeled for this one as it’s bound to find its way to a theater sooner rather than later.

While not exactly an outright comedy, Operation Avalanche features plenty of spark to classify it as such. Even if it gets caught up in some high stakes thrills as the film dives into its finale. Mockumentaries are nothing new to Sundance — The Blair Witch Project, anyone? — so it comes as a shock when we’re graced with a good one. Let alone a really good one. Matt Johnson gets to show off as a jack of all trades as he takes the reigns as director/co-writer and star. Along with a motley crew of undercover CIA agents, they stumble upon one of the biggest conspiracies in American history. Was the moon landing faked?

Thankfully, Johnson — along with co-writer/co-star Josh Boles — give us another inconclusive ending, but treat us to one that actually works. The laughs and thrills are paced to a fantastic conclusion and there is plenty to love along the way. With a cast of characters engaging enough to make the story work, it even keeps you guessing right up to the last shot. Johnson was on hand after the screening for a lively Q&A where he explained how they managed to shoot the film on a minuscule budget inside NASA itself by basically lying through their teeth and getting the most out of 20 minute windows. Operation Avalanche has already been picked up by Lionsgate but doesn’t have a release date announced yet. Hopefully the film finds its audience when it finally goes wide, and I have no doubt it will. Smart and fun mockumentaries are hard to come by so make sure you give the attention it deserves when it finally hits theaters.

Photos courtesy Sundance Institute

Movie Review: “The Revenant”

The Revenant

***** out of 5
156 minutes
Rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity
20th Century Fox

Article first published at The Reel Place.

It’s interesting what one major film can do to bring a director completely into the spotlight. For Alejandro González Iñárritu it was Birdman. While initially unimpressed, it took a second viewing to fully appreciate the technical wizardry and fall in love with the film the way everyone else did. A second look won’t be necessary with his newest Oscar-lock, The Revenant, based in part on the novel by Michael Punke. Filled with scene after scene of startling brutality and spectacular performances from a roster of A-listers, the film more than lives up to expectations. Iñárritu has delivered an amazing film that’s every bit as challenging to sit through at times as it must have been to put together.

In 1823, a group of fur hunters — Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), under the command of Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) — come under attack by the local American Indians. After narrowly escaping on the river, a pursuit gives way, with Glass fighting for his life following a bear attack. Henry bribes Fitzgerald and Bridger to stay behind to see Glass get a proper burial once he finally dies. Fitzgerald winds up killing Hawk in front of his father and inducing a frenzy upon Bridger, giving the opportunity to leave Glass for dead. Little do they know that Glass isn’t going down without a fight and starts a crusade back to base camp to seek revenge. Meanwhile, a company of Americans Indians are hot on everyone’s trail, trying to rescue a kidnapped girl.

Revenge is the name of the game and Iñárritu’s The Revenant puts both DiCaprio and the audience through the wringer. Swept up in the harsh winter onscreen, the film is so fully realized that you’ll wish you’d brought a coat. And DiCaprio’s performance might finally be the one that wins him that oft teased golden statue. The entire film is an exercise in audience punishment with no holding back on the violence and extreme realities of being stuck in the mountains. My friend coined this “a western Apocalypto” and he couldn’t be more right. A particular scene harkens back to The Empire Strikes Back as Glass goes to an unexpected extreme to keep warm overnight. Not to mention the bear attack is single-handedly the most vicious and realistic onscreen animal attacks since Jaws.

The rest of the cast all stand alongside DiCaprio with outstanding performances. Hardy is stellar as expected, in what only adds to his list of memorable performances this year including Mad Max: Fury Road and Legend, while Gleeson continues to prove to be fantastic no matter what role he’s in. With as much love that’s about to be thrown Leo’s way, the real star of The Revenant is Iñárritu. The man never shies away from the elements and has crafted yet another stunning achievement. Considering Iñárritu’s co-writer’s credits — Mark L. Smith, who typically works in the horror genre, but I can see how it could have helped here — I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire shooting script was a rewrite. Thankfully, The Revenant is one of the best films of the year and even at a staggering 156 minute runtime, I can’t wait to witness it again. The film truly is an experience that you don’t want to miss.

Blu-ray Review: “Martyrs”

Movie: ** out of 5

Video: ****
Audio: ****
Extras: **

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Goetz Brothers Neuter Pascal Laugiers Overpraised ‘Martyrs’ on Blogcritics.

There’s only one thing worse than an overpraised foreign horror movie: its American remake. In 2008, French director Pascal Laugier unleashed one of the most controversial horror films. While it may push the envelope, I’ve never found the original film lives up to its showering of existential praise. Never as shocking as it thought it was, now, the Goetz brothers (Kevin and Michael) have managed to make yet another horrible remake — reminding me how much I didn’t care for the material to begin with. And now audiences can make the smart choice to ignore the remake with the Starz/Anchor Bay release, available now on Blu-ray.

We open with young Lucie (Ever Prishkulnik) escaping an apparent torture chamber. When the SWAT team returns to the scene of the crime, all evidence is, of course, wiped clean. They question whether she made it all up or maybe pointed out the wrong warehouse. A month later, Lucie is now at an orphanage where she makes friends with young Anna (Elyse Cole). Together they learn to help Lucie overcome her demons, until 10 years later when Lucie (Troian Bellisario) shows up at a country house where she kills a seemingly innocent family. Anna (Bailey Noble) rushes to her aid, only to question even more whether Lucie is telling the truth. When Anna discovers a trap door, she soon learns the horrifying truth behind Lucie’s madness.

Martyrs comes to Blu-ray with a rather fantastic transfer. Framed in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio on a 25GB disc, the film has plenty of room to breathe considering its 86 minute runtime and single special feature. Blacks looks great, shadow delineation is great, detail in general is exceptional, and there’s no crush or aliasing. For a low budget affair, everything is in top order. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track isn’t quite up to par as the video. Considering it’s a horror movie should leave no surprise it’s a little front heavy. Surrounds kick in when the music tries to trick the audience into feeling some kind of emotion, but otherwise, it simply gets the job done. Dialogue is always clean and there are a few moments of prioritization. English and Spanish subtitles are included.

The only special feature is “Martyrs: A First Look” (8:22) featuring the producer, cast, and crew. The word “rollercoaster” gets mentioned, but this film couldn’t be any further from that. The setup takes almost an hour before it finally gets to the big twist, but by that point, a lot of viewers will have probably either given up and turned it off or fallen asleep. The Goetz brothers have given an already overhyped film the most neutered and boring remake imaginable. The most surprising aspect is that the film was written by Mark L. Smith, who just got co-writing credit on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, but I have no idea what he could have possibly contributed to it. Full of characters you never root for — just because women are in peril doesn’t mean we automatically care — and an even more ludicrous ending than the original, Martyrs is simply going to find the most casual viewers showing interest based on the film’s title alone.

While I may not be a fan of Laugier’s original, it’s far more interesting than anything that happens here. At least in the original, one of the characters winds up alone in the madness that befalls her. Here, all they did was threw away the film’s one twist that works and paired up the friends in a fight to the death. Considering fans of the original are already lamenting this most unnecessary of remakes, it won’t be long before anyone even remembers the remake is finally available. I watched it days ago and wouldn’t give the film a fleeting thought were I not writing this review right now. Disposable is the best word to describe this version of Martyrs. Watch at your own risk, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.