Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Rampage

Dwayne Johnson has over the years, become known for a certain type of movie. The cheesiness he has always embraced with a wink and a smile (remember the 3D gimmick of pec-popping berries at the camera in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island?) but it's only recently that audiences have figured it out; The Rock makes stupid but enjoyable movies -- and he puts effort into them.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was the height of this realization, a movie that had no right to be that funny, that silly, and that meaningful at the same time. Because of that movie, Rampage disappointed me.

I guess Welcome to the Jungle really was something special.

It tries to be essentially the same thing: an outlandish premise? Secret animal experiments in space go awry, and the dangerous concoction crashes back to earth, infecting an albino ape with super-growth and aggression. So, yes, check. Comedy? Not as much, but the film is sure to give the ape a "sense of humor." There's banter and one-liners. And meaningful? Well, it is genuinely attempted, but only works against the precedent of movies like Transformers sequels which are the same type of giant and destructive but completely devoid of any meaning.

That is to say, it's extremely light on meaning, but it puts it on full display so we'll notice that there's like, theme and stuff in a movie where an albino King Kong fights a flying giant wolf with quills in its tail. And it does make the movie feel less mindless, but at a cost. Because most of the movie is spent with Davies (Johnson) and co. (mostly just Naomie Harris) trying to keep George (mo-capped by Jason Liles) safe as he grows, and has fits of rage while government idiots (led by the remarkably fun Jeffery Dean Morgan) try to take him away so they can put him down.

I'm guessing they made him albino so comparisons to King Kong wouldn't be as obvious?

The cost in that because George is a good guy character, the movie refuses to let him do anything too terrible. No killing; minor destruction only. And besides a brief red-shirt encounter with the big bad wolf near the beginning, that's all that happens until the last act. Granted, it's better than letting George kill without discretion and then still value his life over the faceless innocents he's rampaging on, but, the movie is called Rampage. And there's not much of it until the final showdown.

Cutting back on CGI monster fights is fine by me, but it's only really worth it if the content that replaces it is better. In this case it's basically a toss-up, and only then because the monster fighting wasn't all that spectacular to begin with. The crocodile with shark teeth we already saw in Annihilation, the flying wolf wasn't nearly as cool as it sounds, and George didn't even do the classic King Kong break-the-jaw-open move. Is it trademarked or something? It a typical CGI rumble.

I would've been happier with more effort put into the rampaging, and I would've been happier with more effort in the character department. I get that both is too much to ask for, (it shouldn't be) but they held each other back, so neither was satisfactory. The most memorable aspect turns out to be the comedy though it rarely got a chuckle from me. The banter between George and Davies was relatively good, and credit for going for the bad jokes on purpose is due -- that was a bold move.

Let them fight.

It's the charisma and effort of The Rock that keeps it all afloat, is what this boils down to. He has a special talent for making the worthless content as interesting as anything else. I love Naomie Harris, but her character is so much a nothing-burger that all I could think was what is the world is she doing in this movie. Jeffery Dean Morgan is having fun, but his character is too cliched, and then the second he isn't, the movie drops him. And the bad guys are exactly the bad guys from Incredibles 2, I kid you not.

It has its moments as a dumb CGI romp, but don't kid yourself; Rampage is a mess. And if it's really a mess you're looking for, there are bigger, badder, funner, and more memorable ones out there to be found.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Spoiler-free.

This mouthful, so large and awkward that even the film's actors couldn't manage to not stumble over it, is the title of a movie, based on a novel, set just after WWII and centering on a young writer (the lovely Lily James) who happens upon a very odd story, and plunges into it headfirst -- as writers do -- only to find it even more compelling and life-changing than she ever could have dreamed up herself.

She does her best, poor girl, but the material is a mess of tropes repackaged in vintage paper.

This movie is not bad -- for what it is. I only feel comfortable in making that statement with the addition of the qualifier, because the movie is not what I expected or at all wanted, but I believe that if what it is is what a person wants to see, they would enjoy it very much. So -- I'm going to try and describe what it is as accurately as possible. If it still sounds good to you when I'm done, then you'll know it's the movie for you.

The novel was written in 2008 by two ladies. Here's how I imagine it went down: the two ladies were binge-watching Hallmark movies in mid-June, and chatting about Jane Austen, or Anne Bronte more likely, and out of the blue one says to the other, "We could write something better than this!" And so they did. And the end result was that it was made into a movie that's basically a Hallmark rom-dram with better production and a first-rate cast. So I guess they succeeded. My only problem is that they didn't aim very high.

I'm sure there's a genuinely great movie hiding in there somewhere.

I make fun of Hallmark movies, but I've seen my share, and if you've seen one plot you've seen them all. And based on the instincts I picked up from them, I predicted the two main aspects of the movie right off the bat, before they ever even set up one of the aspects as a convoluted mystery to be unwound bit by bit. If you know a little about the story you know that the titular Society is a book club. Well in the whole movie there's a grand total of two scenes of this book club, though they are by far the best bits the movie had to offer.

I expected something like Jane Austen Book Club meets Julie and Julia and all I can say is, don't expect that. There's even less cooking than there is reading. What there is, is drama, and our plucky heroine gently nagging the Society members for crumbs of a story until it's been collected, complete with flashbacks of each significant turn to accompany the explanations. If you've also figured it out for yourself, you get it three times. It's like Nancy Drew on a small British island, but with no lurking danger to give any stakes. Miss Marple, but no murderer to catch.

In short, it spends a lot of time doing very little. And it definitely wishes it were a true story.

The cast is excellent. Many familiar names, and even more familiar faces. All been in better things, yet they all admirably try their very best to instill the half-dead script with some life. What's most apparent is their exertion. Penelope Wilton, Tom Courtenay, Katherine Parkinson, and Lily James hold the movie afloat with their efforts. Matthew Goode and Glen Powell are memorable characters. Michiel Huisman looks handsome with his stubble-beard, and makes sure to have a scene where his shirt is tastefully unbuttoned more than usual.

Nothing too scandalous, this is 1946 after all. If, however, it wanted to be set in 2018, very few changes would have been necessary. There's even a scene where a character uses an old-fashioned version of speaker-phone so he can be hands-free during the conversation. A public proposal feels extremely modern, and in fact most of the romance subplot has no clue or care that it's supposed to be era-accurate. Most unpleasant to me, was the juxtaposition between the fluffy romance, and attempts to portray horrors of WWII with effective dramatic impact. It felt oddly cheap and exploiting.

I spent most of my writing time trying to figure out how to better word the title. It's impossible.

If you like Lily James, that's the best recommendation the movie has to give for itself. It doesn't have much artistic merit or character exploration. Attempts at such come across clumsily. It has no real theme though it does pull out the "family is friends" card near the end. It's simply not quality storytelling. It does, however, have some moments that work emotionally, due to the actors mostly, some lovely landscapes and locations, and plenty of contrived melodrama and romance.

I think I said it best in the beginning: It's a TV movie. Don't expect anything more. It's Hallmark with an extra budget and a fondness for an Americanized, modernized, fantasy version of quaint British living circa mid-1940's. Sound good? Then dig in. It's just potatoes, and potato-peelings.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Hurricane Heist

HURRICANE HEIST! In which talented b-tier actors action/adventure their way into stopping wacky, maniacal villains from stealing $500,000,000 in the middle of a massive hurricane! The result is very appropriately like a mashup of whichever Fast and Furious movie you think is most ridiculous, and Into the Storm or The Day after Tomorrow -- in all ways possible.

Geostorm WISHES it were this awesome.

Toby Kebbell and Maggie Grace probably deserve better than this type of movie in their filmography, but I guess they already have better films under their belt. And sometimes you just need a little silly fun in your life. I'm sure these two were under no illusion that this project was going to be anything more than what it was, and any audience member who watches it and doesn't get what they were expecting probably just went to the wrong theater. It's called Hurricane Heist, and it delivers everything implied.

Quality weather-destruction, impossible high-speed action sequences, and creative problem-solving peppered with plot holes abound. I'm going to go ahead and embrace being cruel to Geostorm, because that movie was a huge disappointment that decided to have a ton of board meeting scenes instead of giving us what we want and what we need, which is grand destruction by way of falling water and blowing wind. Even with the heist part to contend with, this film is very good about being set inside a storm and dealing with the potential dangers that brings.

Tbh I'd watch Toby Kebbell do anything but my favorites are always when he shows up in dumb fun movies and makes them memorable.

We get rain, and people having chases and shootouts in the rain; wind, and climbing high towers in the wind; using air pressure differences to escape the bad guys; and a smallish tidal wave to contend with. Debris blows through the background, parts of buildings and cars blow away, and our heroes are out there among it all. It only lets up to allow set up for the final showdown of racing away from the deadly wall that follows the eye of the storm. When characters start out clean, and end up wet, disheveled, and covered in mud and blood -- that's the best tell-tale sign of a great disaster flick there is.

And it looks way better than it could've got away with. A lot of the stunts were practical, and I would've been impressed if I wasn't too busy enjoying myself to notice the filmmaking techniques. But I'm impressed now. They put actual effort into this movie, people. The script was a disaster (of a disaster), but they made it fantastically. The sequence at the beginning with the house was actually quite stunning. The blending of practical and cgi hit the right balance so the movie didn't feel totally like a cold animated spectacle, but still had plenty of crazy and impossible stuff going on too.

The tagline is "make it rain" y'all. MAKE IT RAIN. There is no subtlety at all, and it is wonderful.

So, no, this movie isn't good when judged on a normal scale. It has some gaping plot holes and is riddled with cliches. The story is obviously ridiculous and it doesn't shy away from playing that element as far as it wants to. The actors are good actors but the characters are one-note and the performances are mostly phoned in while waiting for the next action sequence. BUT. It has some unexpectedly good elements to it too, so don't dismiss it too carelessly.

If you're looking for a good movie, you're looking in the wrong place, plain and simple. If you like Fast and Furious style action you'd probably get a kick out of most of the snappy sequences this one has to offer. And if fighting bad guys and a hurricane simultaneously sounds like a good, fun, popcorn-munching time -- well, you're absolutely right.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Endless

Spoiler-free!

Ten years ago, two brothers left a cult for fear of being forced into committing suicide; now as adults, living on their own, their life doesn't seem to have improved much. Aaron, the younger brother even misses the place, and when he receives a package from the farm that appears to be a goodbye message, he manages to nag Justin into driving there with him. For closure; for curiosity; for a decent meal. What they get is stranger than either ever imagined.

Written and directed by the stars, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.

The otherworldly mystery presented is meant to be Lovecraftian; an intriguing and rather high goal. The impressive part is, it succeeds in it so well, that it feels almost effortless. Perhaps because the similarities were achieved by restraint instead of mimicry. They have their Odd Thing -- the cult members just call it It -- and they slowly and steadily learn about it. Enough to satisfy the initial curiosity, but to leave us more curious than we were to start; and just enough so that the fear element peaks but doesn't fall, as we never quite see behind the curtain.

By the end, we know what It is (more or less) but it's not just some giant monster to be poorly rendered in CGI for the heroes to run away from. The restraint of it is what makes it monstrous. Much like the yellow buoys that indicate Jaws, or the ripples in a glass of water than indicate a T-Rex. This was a low-budget indie film, but I'm sure the filmmakers would have refrained from showing their Odd Thing even if they the budget to make it look realistic and of any design they wanted. You can make monsters look gross and creepy all day long, but the more real fear comes from the unknown.

Not scary so much as unsettling. And a little awe-inspiring. 

And despite the small budget, there are some smaller effects here, not totally flawless in appearance, but used effectively, mostly to create beauty. The movie turns away from ugliness and violence and lingers in the scenery, and it works exactly as it was meant to. There's a strange lens effect that I assume was intentional, were panning makes everything look fish-eyed that was trippy. Overall the cinematography was classically small-time indie, and never attempts more than can be achieved. There was some blue color-grading at the beginning of the film that I didn't like, but once they're in the desert and mountains everything looks very nice.

They did a good job casting, and the acting, while nowhere near exceptional or Oscar-worthy, is fully passable and convincing, and doesn't slide into degrading cheesy or wooden territories, even when delivering exposition or comedy. In fact, there's some surprisingly good comedy here, not just because cute little jokes aren't usually funny in films like this, but because I didn't even expect there to be attempts at humor at all. But it does balance its dark mystery well with banter and various styles of dark comedy too.

I'd love to see what these guys could do without budgetary restrictions.

All that makes for an enjoyable film, but on top of that, there's meaningful character drama that pulls it all together, bringing the focus back to the brothers and their relationship. I found their ongoing argument surprisingly fascinating, and though the resolution came practically out of nowhere, it was one of my favorite parts of the movie. The themes of control and family aren't explored with much subtlety, but the more straightforward approach is better than not coming across at all. Still, most of the movie could've been more refined, and the character drama most of all.

I don't want to give a complete pass because of small budget, especially in the writing department which doesn't require money. It could have been deeper, yes -- but on the level it was at, it was impressively effective. An indie homage to Lovecraft that understands the work it admires -- and with its own ideas to dedicate itself to, it becomes a worthwhile tale in its own right.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - August

Last month I saw my favorite movie of the year (so far -- I'll keep you posted) and it was Lean on Pete. I knew that movie was going to be something special. I know it won't effect everyone so well and in the same way, but objectively it is a very well made, well acted, and beautifully shot film. Here's my review.

July was a pretty great month! I got to see Incredibles 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Mission: Impossible - Fallout in the theater. Fallout was the best (spoiler-free review!) and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Incredibles 2! (Review!) Ant-Man wasn't the most irritating Marvel movie I've seen by a long shot, but it didn't have much good going for it either. Pretty forgettable already. (Review.)

August has a ton of movies, but nothing that I'm dead-set on going to the theater for. Seeing M:I again seems to be currently at the top of my priorities, but there definitely are some movies here that I will want to see. It's just a matter of when. What looks good to you this month??

So. Many. Trailers! Let's go:


Christopher Robin
Aug 3rd; PG
Every time I see something new-that's-not-really-new coming from Disney I get that cynical feeling going again. This is probably the best way to try and bank off my childhood -- and they even got Ewan McGregor in there for grown-up me -- but this trailer is the kind of cute and sweet that usually translates to just another passable Disney production with lots of nostalgia and not much of anything else.




The Darkest Minds
Aug 3rd; PG-13
The Hunger Games meets X-Men... or something. When I first saw this trailer I genuinely confused it with The Gifted. But this does look better than that was. I think the genre of YA revolution-dystopia is all-but dead, but appears to have taken a shift into the superhero realm with this. It still feels a little outdated, but I'll watch it anyway. Because... you gotta. And Rue is the lead -- I liked her.




The Meg
Aug 10th; PG-13
I know this is supposed to be completely overblown and ridiculous, and not supposed to be taken seriously, so I shouldn't have any issues with it, as it's just minding it's own business, being crazy silly fun summer fare, but I'm still annoyed -- because I made my brothers watch Jaws and they hated it, but they do want to see this. I want to see this too... okay, fine... but Jaws will always and forever rule, and this movie couldn't exist without it. I feel like Back to the Future Part II was right after all, because this is essentially Jaws 24, or whatever. But yes giant shark Jason Statham let's go.




BlacKkKlansman
Aug 10th; R
This will either be a brilliant movie, or only a movie that everyone says is brilliant. If the first, it will be a super stylish and fun undercover action movie that doesn't forget that it's marketing itself as a comedy. A solid and natural message would be of unity. If the second, it'll probably forget to be funny and come across instead as oddly angry and far too preachy, story suffering as a result. I hope it's more like the first because I'd love to watch that.




A Prayer Before Dawn
Aug 10th(limited); R
Some Peaky Blinders spoilers means I want to watch this movie. A24's latest. They seem to know what they're doing and they definitely know how to put together a trailer. It is based on a true story, but seems like a pretty remarkable story. Still there are pitfalls there. I'm not a big boxing movie fan and I'm not a big prison movie fan, but I'd definitely like to see this someday.




Summer of '84
Aug 10th; NR
Rear Window with 80's kids? I'm there. I'm sure they're trying to bank off the success of Stranger Things and IT, but it is nice that they seem to have their own idea with the non-supernatural serial killer. Maybe this movie won't be a smash hit that everyone will love, but it sure does seem to be made with me in mind, and I that's all I care about. Looking forward to this one!




Crazy Rich Asians
Aug 15th; PG-13
I don't know, but this looks extremely enjoyable and I want to watch it. The big, non-indie rom-com of the month. Based on a book which is a great sign because rom-coms tend to have tired out plot lines but books need more going for them to be popular. I get a feeling this one will be a hit. Who doesn't like comedies about rich families? And the presentation of a culture I'm unfamiliar with is appealing to me, too.




Alpha
Aug 17th; PG-13
This doesn't look like a good movie, and the trailer appears to have given away the whole story, but I don't really care and I want to see it anyway. It's release date was pushed back and then brought back a little, and that doesn't bode well at all paired with the lackluster trailers featuring unconvincing CGI and a basic story. It's got a cute wolf though, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is has always been worth watching in the past. And this one's set WAY in the past!




Billionaire Boys Club
Aug 17th; R
Has it been long enough that everyone's forgotten about Kevin Spacey now? At any rate he definitely shouldn't prevent a film's release that so many other people worked hard on, even if it doesn't look as good as I hoped it would when I saw that Taron Egerton and Ansel Elgort were starring in a movie together. (The Unusual Names Boys Club!) The movie kind of looks like a mess. With a title like that it needs a trailer with a lot more style to secure my interest -- especially when those guy's best movies (Baby Driver and Kingsman) are so wonderfully high in the style category.




The Little Mermaid
Aug 17th; PG
High King Peter the Magnificent and the elf-princess Amberle star in a terrible kids romance fantasy about mermaids. The trailer gave the whole movie away. Ugh. Yet, for some reason, I know that I will watch it the moment it becomes free to watch. Help me.




Juliet, Naked
Aug 17th(limited); NR
Haha, aw. Sometimes you need a traditional little rom-com, and I seriously would watch this movie right now if I could, because I think I could use one. Rose Byrne is great, Ethan Hawke is great, Chris O'Dowd is great... the movie doesn't need to be particularly fresh or outstandingly exceptional or anything but if it delivers what it promises here, I bet it'll be great too.




Papillon
Aug 24th(limited); R
Like the original, I bet I'll keep seeing it around but never bother to actually watch it. Especially if the consensus is that the original's better because then I might feel the need to watch that one first. I do like Rami Malek though. And I always say I don't like Charlie Hunnam, but that's probably mostly leftover irritation over his version of Nicholas Nickleby. He doesn't bother me enough to make me avoid him. Maybe since this is a true story I should read about what happens and see if that will spark interest.




Destination Wedding
Aug 31st; R
And THIS is a rom-com for the cynical me who doesn't want to see a cute little family movie in which Ewan McGregor and Winnie the Pooh take long walks through the woods together. Honestly, I feel like Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves should have been in a movie together by now. Have they? I can't think of one. Anyway, this makes me laugh, and I would like to see more.




The Little Stranger
Aug 31st; R
Aw, man. I'm going to have to watch this, aren't I? I don't know what it is about movies like this. House-related horror... maybe something supernatural is going on, maybe not... scary children... set in a period... attempts to be refined instead of gory... I love it and hate it at the same time. Or I like the idea maybe. I've yet to see it play out satisfactorily yet I'm always still intrigued. This one has a great cast which is what usually tips me over the edge: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, and other familiar British faces.




Kin
Aug 31st; PG-13
Heck yes. The mere fact that they advertise as by the producers of Stranger Things means that they want to attract that fanbase. And yes, I know The Darkest Minds said that too, but this doesn't look like a teenage X-Men, but more like something original though still relatively family friendly. And look at Franco actually in a role that's suited to him! And look at the neon lighting usage! And how it's all about family. Yep, I'm on board! Dennis Quaid, Zoe Kravitz, Jack Reynor, and I don't think I've seen the main kid in anything before.




Blood Fest
Aug 31st; NR
Eh, on the fence here. With horror comedies the comedy needs to be really on point to get me, and from the trailer it doesn't look super promising. However, it does have Zachary Levi, Peter Parker's friend Ned, and a very fun premise going for it, so I may have to wait and see.