Sep 192018
 
2.5 reels

It’s ten years after the close of the breach in Pacific Rim and Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the previously unmentioned son to the first film’s stern, dead father figure, is threatened with jail or a return to the jaeger program. He chooses the latter and joins ever-squinting Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) in training a bunch of new teen robot pilots. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) is back, doing the weird science stuff he did in the first film, but his partner Newton Geiszler (Charles Day) has joined a Chinese corporation run by the ever-grumpy while simultaneously hot Liwen Shao (Tian Jing). Her plan is to replace manned jaegers with drones. When a rogue jaeger appears and kills the cameo-only Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), it is clear that there’s something fishy with the drone program that will result in a lot of giant robot combat before the giant monster vs giant robot combat.

Pacific Rim would have flopped if it was up to US movie-goers, but the Chinese had other things in mind. It made 75% of its box-office overseas, so a sequel was planned with a focus on China. Parts of the film would take place in China, characters would speak Mandarin (and apparently Cantonese) and the cast would be filled out with Chinese nationals, including Tian Jing in a major role. The film would look much like Chinese action flicks (think bright) and follow the general philosophy of those films (you must recover from your individuality and join the team to become strong).

The first Pacific Rim wasn’t great, but it got by on the coolness of giant robots fighting giant monster and by the even greater coolness of director Guillermo del Toro. It looked great and had style to spare, which it needed to camouflage its drab and inconsistent characters, weak plot, and trite dialog. This sequel lacks del Toro, which is a severe blow. Gone are the fantasy colors and Lovecraftian feel. In its place is a more standard, Chinese-favored color palette and the feel of a generic robot anime. It’s not that interesting, but it isn’t that bad either. And the characters…well, they aren’t any worse than they were the first time around. Eastwood is a block of wood, which puts him even with the previous generic white guy, Charlie Hunnam, and the rest of the new cast is a slight improvement over the old (except for Ron Perlman—Uprising could have used Ron Perlman). Boyega isn’t anything special here, but he has personality, and I could tell the teens apart, so that’s a plus. Their character development is either ridiculous or non-existent depending on the person, which is on par with the first film. And it is hard not to like Tian Jing.

So, Uprising has most of the same pluses and minuses as its prequel, but with less style. What came to my mind was the old mech films from Full Moon Entertainment: Robot Wars and Robot Jox. Those were cheap, but the cheapness added to the fun. If I’m not going to get an artist like del Toro, I’d rather see some stop motion robots and it all done on a budget rather than fancy CGI. It’s rather silly anyway (they “tie” a rocket to robot and we’re in Wile E. Coyote territory). Pacific Rim: Uprising is low concept filmmaking with a high price tag. It’s as if someone said, “Let’s make a Friday the 13th-type slasher for $150 million.” But hey, if I was given big piles of cash to create a live-action cartoon of robots punching, I’d do it too. And the result it fine. Just fine.

Sep 172018
 
two reels

Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is traumatized by the death of his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). [No, that is not a spoiler. It happens in the first few minutes; Baccarin only makes a cameo. More than not being a spoiler, this little bit of info should have been on every poster and in every trailer surrounded by flashing lights and the word “WARNING.”] So he joins the X-Men, and ends up acting as protector to an abused fire-starting teen mutant (Julian Dnnison) who is being stalked by Cable (Josh Brolin), a time-traveling cyborg whose family was killed by the teen after he grows up and becomes a super-villain. To save the kid, Deadpool brings in his pal Weasel (T.J. Miller), Colossus (voice: Stefan Kapicic), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna), lucky mutant Domino (Zaxie Beetz), taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni), and a few others who get less screen time.

OK, so they kill Vanessa and then make a lot of really good jokes about how stupid that is in the opening credits. And those jokes are good because it really is stupid. Massively stupid. Movie-destroying stupid. Fire everyone involved and start from scratch stupid.

Sigh.

Deadpool was a fun movie that ripped into the genre and told a lot of great jokes. But it didn’t rip that hard. It wasn’t that edgy. Sure, it was edgy for a big studio tent-pole in a genre aimed at teenagers, but in general, it wasn’t extreme. It wasn’t good because it was so “out there.” It did take some good shots at the genre, which worked, because it wasn’t an action film at its heart, but a romance. Its story wasn’t that of the typical superhero film, where romance, if it exists at all, is a secondary consideration after defeating the bad guys. In Deadpool, the super-villain stuff is only what goes on while Deadpool is working out what he really should be doing with Venessa and none of it matters until she pops in again. That set it apart. More, Deadpool the character is an obnoxious, creepy jerk who I don’t want to spend two hours with, except Vanessa thinks otherwise, and what she thinks matters. Since she’s perfect, and she likes Wade, I like Wade. It’s all about her.

And now she dead. Which leaves Deadpool being annoying and there’s nothing to counter that. And without Venessa, there’s no romance, so the story becomes a typical super-hero film about saving the innocent. Worse still, it becomes a typical X-Men film. The theme here is about picking yourself up after tragedy (like every freakin’ superhero film ever) and making a surrogate family. Deadpool even restrains himself, and while it was fair game before to make fun of everything, it seems child abuse is off-limits. So, a wacky comedy with serious child abuse statements. Oh boy. One film earlier Deadpool was showing us how ridiculous X-Men films are, and now he’s in one.

As for Cable, as some point in the writing process I think they meant to use him to satirize the grizzled, anti-hero trope, but they didn’t get anywhere with it. For most of the film, Cable is taken seriously, and as he’s pretty dull as a character, he brings nothing to the table. Again, we’re not getting a joke about the X-Men, but getting the X-Men (minus any real emotion).

That makes the basic structure of the film a cliché, the lead character annoying, the anti-hero boring, the theme irritating, and there’s nothing to care about. Which leaves the jokes, which no doubt many people consider the main course. And there are a lot of great ones. Most everything involving X-Force, particularly Domino and Peter, is laugh-out-loud funny, though the trailer spoils all the best gags. The Domino “combat” scene alone almost makes the whole film worthwhile. And Deadpool himself has some great moments—fighting to Enya and the mid-credits bits are some of the best. Some other characters are funny, but we’ve seen it before and they are less funny the second time around. The interactions with Negasonic Teenage Warhead still hold up, but Colossus and Dopinder elicited only a mild smile from me, and T.J. Miller, doing exactly the same things he did in the first film, has worn out his welcome. And there is simply fewer jokes than before. We spend a lot of time with child abuse and grieving and that leaves less time for humor. And without the framework to support the jokes, Deadpool 2 feels drab.

Is it worth seeing? For the some of the jokes, yeah, I suppose. Though for the harm it does to the first film it wasn’t worth making. It isn’t a bad film, but it is a disappointing one.

[For those curious about the different cuts, the theatrical is a touch better. The Super Duper cut has the same feel and none of the changes are significant. Mostly, a joke is swapped for another joke or an additional line is added to a string of jokes, and rarely are the new ones any more R-rated than the original. Sometimes the new jokes are funnier; sometimes the old ones are. More often, they are just different. Except in the case of Domino, less is more, so adding lines is not a plus. Adding more of Colossus and Dopinder doing the same stuff is not a good addition, and more of T.J. Miller drags the film down. Additionally, the extended cut gives us two additional scenes with the mutant teen, and somber child abuse is not what I look for in my wacky comedies. The theatrical version is better paced, better edited, and includes the best musical moment (an acoustic version of A-Ha’s Take on Me, so add a half reel to the rating.]

 Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Sep 092018
 
one reel

In a dystopian future, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a simple-minded, selfish, undeveloped, pop-culture fanatic who we are supposed to like. He, like most people, spends all his time inside the OASIS, a virtual universe where people can be anything, sorta, but tend to go for things that were popular in the 1980s. The OASIS is the most important economic entity in the world, and how it is run can determine the fate of the planet. So when the trillionaire inventor of the OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylace), died, he didn’t will it into the hands of a carefully chosen committee, but instead set up a contest that seems to be about pop trivia, but is really about obsessively digging in to Halliday’s personal life. He is giving control of the world to any jackass who worshiped him. Wade, known as Parzival within the OASIS, isn’t worthy to run a hotdog stand, but he’s decided to go for the big prize. Working with him is Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), who is a resistance leader in the real world. She is more competent than Wade in every way, but she’s a girl, so she slips into a sidekick role. His friends are Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki), who are all members of minority groups, so they stick to their sidekick roles as well, even though they too seem infinitely better than Wade. Opposing Wade is Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) the head of an evil corporation. Sure, his corporation runs debtor’s prisons (allowed by Halliday), but he’s really evil because he doesn’t know ‘80s pop culture, likes Nancy Drew (and you know what that means…), and wants to put ads in the OASIS, and ads are bad. (Good thing Ready Player One has no product placement). Wade must use all of his stalking skills and pure luck to win the contest and the girl.

Ready Player One is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with computer games instead of candy. That’s not my statement, but that of the author. But it is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory if Mike Teavee was the hero and Willy Wonka was a selfish sociopath who cared nothing about innocence or morality. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was also a kid’s book, made into a kid’s movie (at least the first version), where a certain amount of simplification of the universe and ethics and human behavior is reasonable for the intended audience. Ready Player One is filled with references to a time before any current kids were alive. It is a book, and film, specifically for adults who still think like children. The theme of this mess would be toxic if it wasn’t so poorly delivered that most people have no idea what it is.

So what is the theme? It is that pop culture has become a religion. While spelled out in the book, director Steven Spielberg prefers to simply grab every religious symbol he can and toss it in helter skelter. There’s cathedrals and heavenly clouds and shafts of light and kneeling before the representation of god. It’s not subtle. The main character is Parzival and he’s on a Grail quest.

And making pop culture your religion is bad. That’s the stated point. We shouldn’t elevate all this stuff above real life. Yeah… Except that is diluted down to “Hey, take a day off from obsessing over pop culture every once in a while.” That’s not much of a message, but it is a message—except it isn’t. Stating a message in a film doesn’t make it the message. Spielberg made this slip before in a much, much, much better film. In Jurassic Park, the theme is stated by Jeff Goldblum and boils down to, “Don’t do things just because you can, but carefully consider the consequences,” And while the plot does back that, the visuals say, “Dinosaurs are AWESOME!” Who left that film not wanting to make a dinosaur? In the end, the theme of Jurassic Park is that dinosaurs are so cool that nothing else should be considered in our mad dash to make them.

Ready Player One takes it further by not backing the theme with the story. How do you win the day? By obsessing about pop trivia and the makers of pop trivia. How to you get the girl? By obsessing about pop trivia and the makers of pop trivia. Obsessing about pop trivia is the only thing that matters (that and buying some of those sweet, sweet, Warner Bros licensed materials—really, this movie is a nonstop ad), and you need to worship that trivia and destroy anyone who isn’t part of your church. Sorrento doesn’t know the right trivia, so he must be stopped—sort of like how sending death threats to people who disliked Batman vs Superman is a perfectly reasonable thing as they aren’t part of the right sect. Now Sorrento does like some pop culture things, but he likes girls’ things, so… Go ahead, work out why liking Nancy Drew makes you open to ridicule, but praying to Mechagodzilla makes you cool. I’ll wait.

This pop culture religion that we’re told not to embrace, and then shown that embracing is the only thing worth doing, is the worst kind of religion. It is all words with no meaning. None of the references have any depth. You don’t need to know the meaning of The Shining, or the metaphor of the Iron Giant (hint: he doesn’t want to kill). Actually understanding pop culture, thinking about it, is of no use—you just have to be able to rattle off facts and feel it is cool. It’s how Warner Bros would like you to watch this movie: Don’t think about it, just feel it is cool.

It needed to be a lot cooler to pull that off. The visuals are…fine. There’s no great moments. Nothing like the first sight of the sauropods in Jurassic Park. It doesn’t even approach the level of the giant robots fighting giant monsters in Pacific Rim. Apparently in the future everyone will love graphics that look like cut scenes from the 2010s. They can have photo-realistic graphics as is pointed out in the “hacking” scene, but no one goes for that. Ah, but that’s thinking about this world, and no one involved in making this movie wants anyone to do that. The OASIS has been around for years but people haven’t dealt with the fact that what you look like inside the OASIS may be different than what you look like outside it—they deal with it the way someone in 2018 would. Ah, but there I go thinking about world-building, and Ready Player One doesn’t world-build; it just pours some pop culture icons in and stirs.

Ready Player One is a mildly sexist and racist film (women are trophies! Wohoo!) but its true foulness lies in its support of the nostalgia-fanboy mania that has fueled much of the problems in current “fandom”: gamergate, comicsgate, sad puppies, driving people off social media, etc, etc. Thank god it is so bad at it. None of these hate groups are using it as a rallying cry because all they see is a bunch of cool references. Instead of being a garbage fire, it’s empty. Did you see that Terminator 2 thumbs up? Yeah, that was cool. And a time reversal device is named after Robert Zemekis. That’s cool. And that’s all Warner Bros wants you to see. Don’t forget to buy your Buckaroo Banzai T-shirt and Iron Giant figurine when you pick up your blu-ray.

Sep 072018
 
one reel
The+Titan

In the near future, the Earth is dying due to multiple vaguely stated reasons. To “save humanity” a group of scientists, lead by Professor Martin Collingwood (Tom Wilkinson), who are unaware that Saturn’s moon Titan isn’t the only other object in our solar system with an atmosphere (really, couldn’t their non-science have given some gobbledygook reason why Titan is the best choice rahter than simply lying about its atmosphere?) plan to genetically modify adult humans to live there. To do this, they select a group of soldiers who both have proven to be survivors, and are all spectacularly stupid and unstable. Our hero is super soldier Rick Janssen (Sam Worthington), who is too boring to be unstable. He moves with his hot wife (Taylor Schilling)—who is supposedly very brave for giving up her medical career on a dying planet—and his cinematic kid to an insanely expensive house (I think that half the budget was used for renting the house) on the international military base. Shock of shocks, things don’t go smoothly, people die, and soldiers hunt soldiers, but that house is really nice.

Ah, nothing like that Sam Worthington name to say, “Hey, why don’t I watch something else.” He’s every bit as good here as he was in Clash/Wrath of the Titans and Terminator Salvation. Is he a bad actor or does he just choose bad projects; based on this film, I’d say both. The Titan is a sci-fi story about surviving on Titan, except there’s only about 20 seconds on Titan. 50% of the film is spent in a pleasant glass house, and the rest at what I assume was a local Spanish YMCA. There’s a lot more dramatic staring in the first half than science fiction. If you like people gazing off while filmed with a deep blue-green filter, then you’ll be happy. No one else will be.

This is a film where no one seems to have thought that “genetically” altering people in virtually every way to survive on a moon that is in no way habitable to humans might actually change them. One of the solider actually states that he thought there was no danger. Really? I… Really? Everyone is shocked that making someone able to live at negative 290 Fahrenheit, at a 6th of Earth gravity, and in an atmosphere that’s 96% nitrogen and 4% methane would make them look even slightly different than they did before. And they’re very upset about these changes, because they’re stupid. But hey, we learn that future space men will run around naked without penises, so, there’s that.

The plot is ridiculous, the characters are brain-dead, and the “science” has no resemblance to science. The senior scientists/military conflict is just silly. The arguments are goofy and even more so for being allowed to exist (why is doctor-wife yelling that they can’t operate on her husband when it is already way to late to do anything else?) Why are they keeping family members around at all? And the last act, with its multiple endings, raises the stupid factor to unimagined heights.

So everything is stupid, but stupid can be fun. The Titan chooses slow and drab. It looks ugly (except for that house), and trudges along. If you want to make a character drama, then create some interesting characters who show some emotional connection. If you want to make a mad scientist/monster movie, as this drifts into, then make it fast and exciting. Whatever you want to do, don’t make this.

Sep 042018
 
one reel

Recently divorced Edgar Easton (Thomas Lennon) returns to his home town to his pleasant mother and needlessly nasty father. He has the uncommon good luck to meet the once pleasant and attractive girl in town Ashley Summers (Jenny Pelicer), who likes him for no reason we’re ever given. In a mostly ignored subplot, Edgar’s brother had died as a child, and he happened to have a creepy puppet made by long-dead Nazi psychopath Andre Toulon (Udo Kier). Edgar, Ashley, and his Jewish boss Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) head to a convention/auction of puppets made by Toulon to sell the puppet. The convention is filled with Jews, lesbians, and other minorities oppressed by Nazis. To no ones surprise, the toys become mobile and go on a killing spree, mainly of people we have never seen before. Detective Brown (Michael Paré) is called in, but he’s an idiot, and his only help comes from ex-cop Carol Doreski (Barbara Crampton), who killed Toulon years ago.

Puppet Master didn’t need a reboot, nor did they need to change Toulon and his puppets from Nazi fighters to Nazis, nor take away the puppets’ personalities, but it could still have been fun. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich isn’t fun. It isn’t anything because it wants to be so many things, and that’s the problem. It seems like a cult flick, with lots of gratuitous blood and tits. But then it tries to be a light comedy. Then it attempts to be a serious statement on Nazism. Then it switches to try its luck at real horror. And these don’t fit together. The murders are mean spirited, which kills the comedy. The silly moments kill the horror. And everything kills the message.

A film directed, shot, and lit this poorly needs something strong to overcome those flaws, or it needs to dive into them as ‘70s euro-cult often did. But here, during the big dramatic death (should this film have a big dramatic scene?), I can’t see the characters’ faces well enough to know what they are supposed to be feeling. And I need to see their faces. Or maybe drama wasn’t the way to go. Maybe if your film is about killer Nazi puppets, you should go for zany fun because… killer Nazi puppets!

I assume there was rewrites going on during filming as the film’s structure is odd. Why do we spend time with Edger’s terrible father or in his home town when it doesn’t connect to the rest of the story? Why not just start with everyone arriving at the convention? Why do some characters get long intros while others get nothing? They could have saved some money by cutting those unnecessary scenes and sets and characters, and used it to buy a light or two.

As for the ending, it doesn’t have one. It ends with a “To be continued…” notice.

Charles Band made far too many Puppet Master films, and most of them weren’t very good. But Band made films that could be enjoyed on some level. Now with others taking over the franchise, they’ve made something that is just ugly.

 Artists, Horror, Reviews Tagged with:
Sep 042018
 
three reels

Sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) finds himself at a predator crash site. Knowing the government will try and hush it up, he mails pieces of alien tech to his P.O. Box as evidence, but it ends up in the hands of his magical autistic son (Rory McKenna), who switches it on and calls a predator. Quinn ends up imprisoned with a group of mentally unstable soldiers (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Agulera). When things go wrong for the government agents led by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), the soldiers escape, and join with hunted scientist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn). This sets up a four way battle, between the soldiers, Traeger and his henchmen, a predator, and a super-predator.

Some movies are too dumb to be bad, and this is one of them. Of course that also makes it too dumb to be great, but it’s a lot of fun. This is what you get when a bunch of talented people, spearheaded by writer/director Shane Black, get together and just toss things at the wall. A lot of it sticks. There are an excessive number of well delineated and skillfully brought to life characters. There’s a non-stop stream of one liners which surprisingly give depth to the characters and are witty around half the time. There’s around three hours of action squeezed into the hour and fifty minute run time, including explosions, thirty different types of small arms fire, crashes, chases, and so many deaths. This is a film packed to the gills.

OK, no one is bringing their A-game, but everyone is bringing a solid B-game. Every actor pulls it off, every scene looks good (not great, but good), and every emotional beat lands, though with more of a tap then a hammer blow. It feels like the best SyFy channel movie ever.

So am I being far too kindly in overlooking the major flaws? No, as this is the type of movie where the regular rules of what’s a flaw don’t apply. It doesn’t matter that everything is too convenient, that much of the plot doesn’t make sense, or that people just make wild leaps in assuming what the predators are up to. None of those take away from the fun. What does hurt it is it is too proper. It needed to go a bit more into Deadpool territory. It needed more extreme kills, more ridiculous battles, and a lot more offensive dialog. It’s too pretty. This is best shown by our nude scenes with Olivia Munn, or rather, our lack of them. The film focuses on her undressing for decontamination, and then again, when having her clothing on is keeping the doors from unlocking to let her escape. We should have seen her standing naked (as well as Jake Busey’s bare ass and probably some shadow swinging between his legs), but for this softest of R ratings, they play it off as if the audience should be titillated just by the thought of Ms Munn’s theoretical nudity. That’s too timid. Play ball or go home, and The Predator is the type of film where everyone should be playing, and cheating.

So, The Predator was never going to be a great film. With a bit more balls, it could have been a “classic” B-Sci-Fi cult film. With less talent it would have been trash. It ends up thoroughly enjoyable, if brain-dead.

It follows the cheesy good time Predator (1987), its nearly as good sequel, Predator 2 (1990), and the disappointing Predators (2010). There were also two Alien crossover films that everyone likes to ignore, the surprisingly good AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), and the not at all surprisingly horrible Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007).